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Assumptions are harmless, until they're not.

Assumptions Are Harmless, Until They’re Not

When you clicked to read this post, based on the title, what did you assume it would be about? Did the title make you want to read it, or not so much? Do people make too many assumptions about you on a regular basis? Do you make too many assumptions about others or situations you’re unfamiliar with? Actually, I’m pretty sure we all do.

Assumptions are things we believe to be true, or accept as true, based on our experiences or beliefs, not necessarily based on proof. Sometimes we are right. Sometimes we are wrong. Really wrong.

When I was 11 or 12, like most kids around that age, I had a growth spurt. By sixth grade, I stood a half foot taller than both my older sisters. Suddenly, in my family anyway, I was tall. One Sunday after church, some guy introduced himself to my family and when he turned to me, he asked something along the lines of, how in the world is it possible you’re the youngest (of the girls) when you’re the tallest? 

What a dumb thing to ask, right? I never forgot that comment, which probably indicates how it made an already self-conscious preteen girl feel. Suddenly, I didn’t feel tall, I felt too tall. Despite her best efforts, my mother was unsuccessful at convincing me that taller was okay, maybe even better. The damage from that seemingly innocent assumption and comment (among other things) was done.

Don’t assume.

As many of you know, I live in Wisconsin.

What do you assume about me from that tidbit of info?

Packer fan? Nope. Cheese head? Are you kidding me? (Though I do like cheese, just not on my head). Vikings all the way (and WTF happened in that playoff game with Philadelphia?) Brewers fan then? Nope. The Twins are the team for me. Beer drinker? Nope. I prefer an occasional glass of wine. Trump supporter? When Hell freezes over. Republican? Nope. Democrat and proud of it.

Don’t assume.

Of course, we all make assumptions many times, every single day. We assume the weather channel is, at least sort of likely, to get the forecast right. When it snows, we assume we might need an extra layer or that it’s likely we’ll need to shovel later on. At work, we assume co-workers will show up and do their jobs (hopefully). We assume our bus drivers, doctors, nurses, dentists, teachers and fill in the blank with any other profession, are well trained, or at least trained.

Assumptions, for the most part, are common-sense good calls. Until they’re not.

Take politics, for example. If you’re a Democrat, do you assume all Republicans are the same? And vice versa. If you’re a Republican, do you figure all Dems to be bleeding-heart liberals in favor of all things big government and higher taxes to pay for them?

Don’t assume.

If you’re a person of color, do you assume all Caucasians are alike? If you’re white, do you assume certain things to be true about all African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Asians or any other non-white block of people? Do you assume various things based solely on religious affiliation or lack thereof?

Again, if we’re honest, we all make certain assumptions about others who are not like us. Some of this is normal and okay. Until it’s not.

Don’t assume.

And then there are those assumptions so often made about breast cancer.

Early stage. Caught it early. All will be fine then. Just a bump in the road. At least you got the “good” cancer. You must love pink. Surely you can’t wait to participate in one of those walks. Cancer must’ve taught you a lot. And let’s not forget this clunker assumption – it must be kinda nice to get a free boob job out of the deal. Sigh…

Don’t assume. 

Late stage diagnosis? Oh dear, you’ll be a goner soon – my aunt’s, neighbor’s cousin only lasted six months. You must’ve done something wrong for that to happen. Wait, you still have hair. You don’t even look sick. I’m sure you can still beat this. Tell me again when you’ll be done with treatment…

Don’t assume. 

And so many assumptions are based on physical appearance or circumstances.

You’re a woman, so you can’t or shouldn’t do that. You’re overweight; you must eat all day long and you probably never exercise. Ever. You’ve been diagnosed with depression – but seriously, if only you tried hard enough, you could snap out of it. You’re poor; you gotta be lazy and looking for handouts. Just pull yourself up by your bootstraps.

Don’t assume.

Grief assumptions abound as well.

You must find comfort knowing your dear one’s in a better place. It was meant to be. He didn’t suffer. He was old, so it was his time. You must be over it by now.

Don’t assume.

Yes, assumptions abound.

They’re harmless.

Until they’re not.

Don’t assume.

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What’s an assumption often made about you, and how does hearing it, or knowing others think it, make you feel?

What’s an assumption you’ve made that turned out to be wrong?

 

Assumptions Are Harmless, Until They're Not

 

 

17 thoughts on “Assumptions Are Harmless, Until They’re Not

  1. I was recently told how lucky I was to only have one child (an assumption that this was all I wanted) as they had two, lazy teenage girls who were far more interested in their boyfriends and going out than helping out with chores at home. Although I have known this person for a year or so I’m not one to share my private life details at work. I smiled politely at my colleague but did not share the reason I have “just the one?” child is that I was only able to become pregnant with the help of IVF. My twin sons were born 12 weeks early and my youngest, precious, tiny son Oliver passed away when he was just 6 days old. I do not ask people why they have two, three, four or even more children as it’s none of my business but many comments have been made to me about the pitfalls of having a spoilt, clingy, only child…another unfair and hurtful assumption.
    I would love to have my two, lazy, spoilt, clingy boys arguing and driving me mad at home but for me it is “just the one” beautiful, thoughtful son that I am so very thankful for.

    1. 2 OE, Your comment really touched me. Assumptions can be downright cruel sometimes. As you said, it’s no one’s business how many children you choose (or are able) to have or not have. And having lost three precious babies, well, that is heartache that knows no comfort. I’m very sorry. And I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with such insensitive, hurtful comments. And yes, I’ve heard people make comments about those spoiled “only” children. So much judging goes on – which I supposes, is what assumptions are. Again, some are harmless, until they’re not. Thank you for sharing about such personal things.

  2. Well we not only make assumptions about other people but we make assumptions about ourselves as well. From what I was told about my breast cancer that it is small, caught early, non-agressive, only a lumpectomy, no chemo and IF radiation only 5 treatments. I thought great! This will be over in no time. Lucky me! However, I’m learning that cancer is not easy at any stage or characteristic it has. Surgery wasn’t easy and now I’m facing the full radiation treatment with Tamoxifen for years. I disappointed myself. It’s much better to be non-judgemental and not make assumptions in life about anyone, especially yourself.

    1. Roberta, You are so right! We do make assumptions about ourselves and our situations too. And sometimes we are way off! It is much better to be non-judgmental, including with ourselves, but why does this seem so hard to put into practice? Thank you for sharing.

  3. Ahhh…so many assumptions. 3 of my least favorites, 1. “You’re so lucky you don’t have to wear a bra anymore. ” I would give anything to have my old, saggy, 60 yr old breasts back. 2. “Yay! Your hair is growing back!” I actually had a less difficult time losing my hair than dealing with this in between time of fuzz. 3. “You look great and now all that cancer stuff is behind you.” As we know, cancer is never totally behind you. We all know it can come back and hopefully we don’t dwell on that fact , but sometimes we’re waiting for the other shoe to drop, and the drugs we need to keep it at bay are not always an option when we weigh them against quality of life. I have been guilty of assumptions of other kinds myself and I will try to be more aware of my own in the future. Sometimes it’s so hard to know the right words to say.

    1. Donna, Great points you make. Thank you. Sometimes assumptions aren’t even things we say, but rather things we think, about others as well as ourselves.

  4. It’s so easy to say things that cause hurt or that the listener has probably heard many times before when we talk about cancer. We often repeat things said in the media at times when we feel stuck for an original response and I sometimes think (only much later) that a comment I have made could so easily have been better phrased or even better not said in the first place. I try to be an active listener now and not one of those people who are just waiting for a pause in the person’s story before relating how our experience is the same or worse…that should always be a story for another day. Sometimes it’s enough just to listen without prejudice or judgement or comment.
    Thank you Nancy for your listening ear and to the other ladies here for sharing.

    1. 2 oe, “Sometimes it’s enough just to listen without prejudice or judgement or comment.” Love that. Thanks for sharing. And you’re welcome. 🙂

  5. I’m always bothered by the assumption that as a cancer survivor, I must so appreciate being alive that I love life and constantly seize the day. Speaking for myself and I know many others, who has that kind of energy?

    1. Eileen, I am bothered by that one too. Like I didn’t appreciate life before. Or my family. Drives me nuts. And yes, I know what you mean about seizing the day and wondering if you have the energy for that. And what exactly does seizing the day mean anyway? Just another expectation, in my book. Thanks for sharing.

  6. I walked into a different health food store on Friday. The manager just “happened” to have had cancer, too. Stage 4 bladder cancer. But there she was, young, and now pregnant. It is just magical when we can share our lives and experiences without the normal societal assumptions. She was highly trained in nutrition so was able to give me excellent guidance and tips. Such a relief to leave the expectations and lack of comprehension aside and just be ourselves. The ones who have experienced cancer. It is also special when we have the freedom to share our stories to an understanding listener. In my book, the listener is the hero. It was one of those moments that are like pearls on a strand. Luminous and precious. In a city of three million.

    Honey Bee

  7. My most memorable assumptions during the first days of DX and determining treatment–nurses and techs assuming I was married w/ kids–and I am NOT. Then all the advice to pray/give over to God, and I’m an atheist. Most irritating assumption by staff at cancer treatment center–that I was able to just take a leave from my job and was totally free for whatever appointments they handed me. Because my financial situation was such that I really could NOT do that. I had to go back and haggle out every treatment scheduling, appointment with doctors, etc. If they’d just come to me while I was sitting in the chemo chair, and ASKED me, it would’ve been more efficient. They were always so surprised when I told them I had a conflict with a work schedule, like “uh, you’re working?” It makes me even angrier now to remember. Because it would’ve been nice to not have to hustle during that time. Ugh.

    1. CC, It’s just plain wrong that so many assumptions were made about you. I don’t blame you for feeling angry about them, even now. Thank you for sharing about them.

  8. I had a lumpectomy and so did not need reconstruction. One of my friends saw me for the first time since my surgery and said why aren’t your boobs bigger? Wow… Another keeps asking how I am enjoying my time off. Time off? I am still working full time and have been since my dx (except a week after surgery). Another person I know told my best friend well she doesn’t look sick. People don’t always think when they assume…

  9. Great, thought-provoking post, Nancy. When I was undergoing chemotherapy and had to take a couple of days off for it, my co-workers said to me that I was LUCKY to get time off!!! Ouch.

    What peeves me off most, though, is the assumptions people make about my daughter. One former colleague told me that Ari would be good at violin because she’s Asian. Argh! And Ari is going to be learning violin next year in orchestra, but it has nothing to do with her nationality.

    Too many assumptions for my liking!

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