How to make an ass of yourself (Ee-aw)

You know the saying, right?  Don’t assume – it makes an ASS of U and ME.  (Well, if you don’t, you do now!)

But have you ever stopped to consider why this saying holds truth?  Why it is so relevant to all our relationships and even everyday conversations?  And why we do it anyway, to the detriment of healthy communication and heightened understanding?

Here’s the short answer to both.

Assuming requires less energy BUT assuming is a major roadblock to genuinely hearing, understanding, and thereby connecting with others.

Assuming requires less energy

Yep, when we hear a bit of what someone says, we automatically fill in blanks, relate the bits we understand to our own experiences of the world, and jump to conclusions about the meaning and significance the event has for that person.  Consider Jenny.

Jenny is telling Alicia about her struggles with getting a uni assignment completed.  She says she’s worried about not making the deadline.  “Oh I know,” says Alicia, “the topic is really boring and it’s hard to find the motivation.  Don’t worry, you always get good marks, just get it knocked over and submitted.”  Alicia’s intentions are to make Jenny feel more confident, and to side with her on finding the assignment a chore.  Jenny leaves the conversation feeling that Alicia didn’t listen to her and just brushed her off.  What went wrong?

Well, Jenny isn’t finding the topic boring or feeling unmotivated.  Jenny has a chronically sick child at home and her husband is away on business.  She has no family support and is exhausted, and actually feeling isolated and quite down.  She usually gets good marks, but can’t even find the time or energy to read the literature.  She has already had one extension and can’t get any more time.  Her husband won’t return until after the deadline.  She’s not even thinking about marks; she’s worried about failing the subject.

A simplistic example, but shows how easy it is to think we’re listening and being supportive, when we’ve assumed information because it is simply quicker to feel we’ve done our bit by contributing to the conversation.  We haven’t considered it may offer little to the other person.  We’re more invested in how we feel about ourselves, and getting to lunch.  Besides, we’re really quite uncomfortable hearing about other people’s struggles – it’s so… negative.

Assuming is a major roadblock to genuinely hearing, understanding, and thereby connecting with others

When we don’t bother to make time or effort to really listen to someone’s unique experience or to ask questions that help us deepen our understanding, we miss the opportunity for genuine connection.  Let’s replay Jenny and Alicia, after Alicia’s developed her relationship skills with a professional counsellor.

Jenny: I’m really struggling with this uni assignment.

Alicia: Oh really?

Jenny: Yeah, I actually think I might fail.

Alicia: You normally get such good marks.  Something must but really up for you.  Wanna talk about it?

Jenny: My little one’s really unwell, hubby’s away on business and I don’t have anyone to help, so I haven’t even started the reading.

Alicia: I don’t have any kids, but that sounds tough.  Can you get an extension?

Jenny: I’ve already had one, and I have until the final marking date or I’ll fail the unit.

Alicia: Gosh, it’s pretty serious for you then.  Can I help at all?

Jenny: Probably not, but thanks for listening.  I’m sure I’ll find a way…

Alicia didn’t fix Jenny’s problem, and much of the time we can’t fix other people’s problems.  What she gave was a genuine ear to hear and ask about Jenny’s experience, and an acknowledgement of how hard it must be for Jenny.  This took a small amount of Alicia’s time and effort.  Although Jenny couldn’t see how Alicia could help, she was touched by her bothering to ask and respond, and she left the conversation feeling cared about.  A big impact for Jenny.

Stop making an ass of yourself (and others)

We’ve all been on the receiving end of a lousy conversation.  We know when others are giving us trite responses.  Being brushed off or dismissed can feel crushing.  So stop doing it to others.

You may not have long to chat (lunch is important, after all).  You may be under the pump yourself (we all have our own life troubles).  You may just not feel bothered (we all get tired at times).  Fine.  Let others know if you’re not up for listening.  But don’t give them a quick “you’ll be right, mate” response and expect them to be grateful for your friendship and wise words.

And if you do have that two minutes to spare, be really present.  Put thoughts of that fresh salad wrap and double mocha on hold.  Then Hear – Ask – Acknowledge.

You may just transform someone else’s day, or an entire relationship.  And you certainly get to feel good about that.

DON’T spoil yourself rotten?

I love words. I love the meaning of words. I love etymology, the heritage or roots of words.

Given that it’s almost Christmas, I wanted to contrast what we are bombarded with by inviting thoughts on an old expression, ‘to spoil yourself rotten.’ Why?

While at first glance it may conjure up images of being surrounded by bling and booty, indulging in the pleasures of adornment and lavishing those you love with everything their hearts desire, upon looking more closely we see another side to this brag-worthy pastime.

To spoil something is to cause damage to its value. In the case of a person, to damage the character, typically through “complying unrestrainedly with its desires” (Collins Dictionary). A person who is rotten is “morally corrupt” (Collins Dictionary). Thus when we “spoil (a person) rotten,” we inadvertently do them harm, not good. You see where this is heading…

Christmas, the time of giving. Even if you don’t want to. Even if you don’t have the cashflow. Even if you don’t like someone, for hecks’ sake. The pressure we place on ourselves at Christmas is astounding, and fodder for another article (sign up for email updates so you never miss out). Often our aim at Christmas is to be spoiled, or to spoil those we love – kids, grandkids, partner, lover, parents – in order to impress their worth to us upon them. But at what cost?

Each year, it seems, we try to outdo ourselves, especially when we have children and especially in this technological age of ever-new, ever-more gadgetry. The commercialism of Christmas is tragic. Green and red are such apt colours – green for envy and greed, red for money and anger. But what are we really doing to ourselves?

When we become caught up in the madness of spending big, trying to impress and desperately wanting to please everyone around us (because we love them, yes, but also because we are pressured to keep up with the Joneses), we can lose sight of the effect we are having on our society, children especially.

We are attaching worth to what we can give, and what others can receive, whilst at the same time setting up an expectation that at Christmas time, you deserve all your wishes to come true, that is, to have everything your heart desires.

The reality is, that’s not life. And it’s not healthy. Don’t get me wrong. Giving is one of THE most soul-enriching activities we can undertake. But giving to excessive and setting up expectations that it will happen ‘just because it’s Christmas’ creates unrealistic feelings of self-worth and resentment when they are not fulfilled by others. It can set us and others up for disappointment, and also breed a phenomenal greed that seriously does morally corrupt folks.

So sprinkle your loved ones with kisses, hug them tight and tell them you love them, make small offerings from the heart. Cook a meal and share it. Mow the lawn for a mate. Drive an elderly person to the shops and carry their groceries for them. Hand-make a card, picture or cake. Take your kids to the beach or snow and play with them. And if you must spend money on a gift, choose something that expresses your feelings or will be of use to that person’s life. Don’t buy to fill the stocking with cheap junk that will be thrown out. Don’t buy the latest gadget because everyone else has it. Decide for yourself if it will enrich the person’s life, and only buy it if you can afford it without creating financial stress for yourself. There are other ways to give and time is the most valuable gift of all.

So have a safe and happy time with family and friends this holiday season, and please, don’t spoil yourself rotten. You’re amazing just as you are.