10th December 2018 |Phil FLANAGAN

The Benefits Of Erasing Our Assumptions

It is a common employment practice to be put on a three month probation when first hired, to see if one up to the job. Although invariably for the benefit of the employer, it allows both sides to assess if person and position is a good match. By instigating such a process it neutralises the need to assume or take anything for granted, however obvious these may appear on first view. Once past probation, periodical appraisals will make sure that everything develops in a positive and productive manner, advantageous to both sides. Yet in other areas of life this is often not the case. Many things, people, relationships or situations are taken for granted, set in stone, never questioned after the initial process of discovery and integration into life, has taken place. Often only after something has been excluded do we start too appreciative or be grateful for what is now lost. Even though some assumptions may be beneficial, others can bring about untold and seemingly unrelated damage. It is only once we put assumption under the microscope can we begin to appreciate it’s pro’s and con’s.

I remember age fourteen, aimlessly wondering around the school yard, pondering life’s many questions, questions more fitting for a psychology major than a teen. On one such walk I concluded,  “The only constant thing in the universe is change” and here in lies the nub of the debate regarding assumption. If change is constant what place in life is there for assumption? The more concrete and fixed something may be, the more chance that assumptions attached to it can be a fairly safe bet. That Stonehenge can be found two miles from Amesbury or that Big Ben can be found at the north end of the Palace of Westminster is two such examples. That said, even the physical landscape of London has changed drastically since I was a student.  The more we ponder assumption the more paradoxical its presents itself to be.

As I stood at the basin and turned on the tap I had no doubt as to what would happen next; water would imminently gush out ready for my morning shave. I had been struggling for some time with writing a piece around assumption, tussling how best to explain the pro’s and con’s of something that many never question or even think about. Yet assumption although inevitable in one form or another, can in many areas of life be detrimental, dangerous and even deadly. Then in a flash, a perfect example jumped out at me, the hook my piece needed was right before my eyes. My relationship with this basin in fact the whole of the bathroom was quite different to that of most other people. For I had literally built this bathroom myself piece-by-piece, in a room that in its previous incarnation had been a bedroom. I remember with child like excitement the first time I turned on that tap, setting sail on its maiden voyage, hesitant yet excited at what might happen next. Logically knowing the outcome but emotionally fearing a failed mission, I waited. The following moment seemed to stand still, as the nectar of life gushed into the sink following an initial spluttering of air. I was very, very pleased, my goal achieved and not a leak in sight.

I’d always been amazed by installing anything new into a place previously devoid of facility, be it tap, light switch, electrical outlet or as in this case a whole bathroom. Some might say that I have not done enough of this sort of work to loose that sense of wonder, of child like excitement and magic I felt, every time I completed an installation. That may well be true but which position would you prefer to find yourself in? One where you experienced magic in the mundane or one where repetition has turned the magical into the mundane? You see when I turned on that tap I had an overriding sense of gratitude. Not only for the fact that is had worked and was not leaking all over the floor but for the privilege of being able to have water come to me. Finally this room had gone from bedroom to bathroom from no running water, no tap, bath or toilet to literally having it all at my fingertips.

For some a tap bringing water would not only be magical it would be a miracle. For the one in ten people on this planet who don’t have access to clean running water this would be the greatest gift. Yet how quickly does it all become normal and just something else needing to be cleaned?

As I look back I could cite enumerable examples where assumption has taken precious gifts in my life and turned them into “just stuff”, stuff so taken for granted that it no longer registered as I went about my day. Like that amazing feeling of freedom when you first pass your driving test, no longer beholden to another to get from A to B you aimlessly take to the road just because you can.

So where did that amazing feeling go, what happened to the magic of motoring?  Well the thief came and stole it, the thief known as “Assumption” and with it he took our gratitude, our sense of wonder and the ability to just be in the moment and enjoy this newly discovered freedom.

“Ah yes, being in the moment!!!”  I spent many years meditating following the wise words of a spiritual teacher, hoping he would help me find my way to Nirvana. Yet till that moment in time the easiest way to be totally in the moment was when experiencing extreme pain. Like the tennis ball served at me from the racket of a very tall and strong opponent finding contact with my nether regions before my racket could intercept. At that point nothing else existed, past and future were of no concern, only now existed, only extreme pain. Assumption of what is to come can so easily take us out of the moment. Assuming the next moment, the next day, steals our ability to be present, racing ahead planning scheming, declaring that once I had sorted out… then I will be ok. But that moment often never comes…


Like many things in life, assumptions can be helpful at times and    hinder at others. It would be all but impossible to eradicate assumption from the human psyche and even if we could would it actually be of benefit? We may not be able to affect the assumptions of others but we can take stock and re-evaluate our own and how they have molded us into the people we are today. If we were able to enlist the assistance of hindsight how often would we discover that assumption had hindered more than it helped? As we continue with assumption under the microscope we see that they can often take us off course, erasing appreciation, negating gratitude. So rather than trying so hard in life to be grateful and appreciative and often falling short, maybe all we need to do is to stop assuming.

Assumptions may not always be of our own making; some may have been handed down, one generation to the next. Assumption is often the fertilizer that many things including prejudice are cultivated in.

Assumption is the thief who steals away appreciation from an act of kindness or generosity, demoting such acts to mere expectations. How often do mothers feel taken for granted? How much is silently assumed on the part of her child who asks yet silently assumes compliance to their instruction? “No” is not an option that they are prepared for. In such an exchange both parties loose, both parties denied the precious jewel found within giving and receiving. This is the gift that assumption brings. Assumption can make meaning where meaning is lacking, a meaning that may be far from the truth.

The more we probe the more we see how invasive assumption can be. In the search for inner peace and tranquility many strive for the here and now, the perfection of the moment. Yet assumption has no place in the here and now, no place in this moment.

So I invite you to notice your assumptions, to ask how valid or in fact true each one is and how different life would be without it.

How would life improve if we reduced our assumptions and how much more would our appreciation and gratitude grow, enabling us to enjoy the wonder of this precious present moment?