To assume can be ... if not a dangerous ... a foolhardy pastime. Whether it’s the reckless, fearless teenager who assumes he or she is invincible behind the wheel or your average, everyday working man (or woman) who assumes the drive home will be a safe one because, let’s face it, they’ve been making the same commute for years without a care in the world besides a night spent with the family; a homemade, sit-down dinner; and the latest episode of the Big Bang Theory on CBS.
Assumptions dare those making them to close their eyes, blind themselves to the reality of any given situation and hope they find the edge of the proverbial cliff before they fall off it. And yet we make assumptions – we assume – all the time.
Dictionary.com defines an assumption as “the act of taking for granted or supposing,” and yet that definition barely touches the surface when it comes to the consequences of our daily suppositions. Take the aforementioned teenager and hard working family man, for instance. The young teen, assuming invincibility (as most young teens do), decides to text a friend while cruising the back roads at 70 miles an hour, not realizing that just over the next hill lies a potentially deadly – and ultimately life changing – encounter. Veering into the opposite lane and concentrating more on the new cell phone mom and dad bought for Christmas, he or she too late sees the oncoming average Joe (or Jane) and ... bang ... it’s a head-on collision and trip to the hospital for both drivers, if not worse.
Yet assumptions aren’t always so serious; the ramifications seldom so dangerous. Assumptions can be humorous, mind-boggling or even philosophical in nature. Said comedian Mitch Hedberg, “Every time I go and shave, I assume there’s someone else on the planet shaving. So I say, ‘I’m gonna go shave, too.’” Or there’s journalist H.L. Mencken, who stated, “Before a man speaks it is always safe to assume that he is a fool. After he speaks, it is seldom necessary to assume it.”
Assumptions can even be found in politics and economics, according to Milton Friedman, as “most economic fallacies derive from the tendency to assume that there is a fixed pie, that one party can gain only at the expense of another.”
Even worse, however, the assumption that one will live forever, as will one’s loved ones, despite constant reminders. And while this assumption may seem similar to the previously mentioned, invincible teen, it’s more than that. Seldom do we realize the absolute mystery that is life; just how fragile – yet enduring – it can be.
Psychiatrist R.D. Laing states, “True guilt is guilt at the obligation one owes to oneself to be oneself. False guilt is guilt felt at not being what other people feel one ought to be or assume that one is,” which ties in nicely with the legendary Jimi Hendrix’s politically motivated lyric, “White collar conservative flashin’ down the street, pointing that plastic finger at me. They all assume my kind will drop and die, but I’m gonna wave my freak flag high.”
Some people, sadly, will always assume the worst in any given situation, their pessimism a flimsy shield to hide behind, while others assume the opposite, hoping for the best and doing all they can to accept what life throws at them. It’s the age-old, glass half-empty, half-full debate, really, which I’ve never quite understood.
Because half-full or half-empty, what happens if you’re not thirsty?