You are walking down the street at night and come upon a house burning. The fire is still small and has not engulfed the house yet. There are people standing watching, others walking by.
You stop, standing next to a gentleman, lean over and enquire, “Has someone called 911?” To which he replies, “I assume someone has, I have been standing here for a bit.”
So you stand there, watching the house burn wondering if anyone is inside, whether the fire trucks will arrive soon.
You sidle over to another person and ask, “Is there anyone inside?” The woman responds, “I assume someone has checked, I live two streets over so I don’t know these people well. Someone must be handling the situation.”
You stare quietly at the house, with the rest of the crowd, and watch the house as the fire grows.
You hear someone say, “I wonder when the fire fighters will get here. I assume they will be here any moment, I assume they were called by someone a while ago.”
This scenario seems implausible and a bit melodramatic. Perhaps it is. As I, like you, assume someone else would have called 911, someone else would know the people in the house and know who was there, someone else would have handled all the important details.
But what would happen if EVERYONE assumed someone else had handled the call, checked for inhabitants. What would happen if we all stood there watching that house burn with its family inside. When would it be too late to save them, or the house?
Who then would be responsible for the tragedy? Who could have prevented the situation from going unheeded and been able to help stop it from going that far? Is it fair to convince yourself that you are not partially responsible because you assumed, just like everyone else, that someone else would, should, could and were handling the situation?
Now you can argue these points, debating each on the merit of fact. But in the end the family is dead, the house in ash and you are left to ponder, ‘Could I have done something to help?’
Often times in relationships we use the theory of assumptions to avoid actually having to deal with a situation. ‘Someone’, that magical being, will do something, certainly. Won’t they?
The other person will come to me if they want something. The other person will tell me what it is they need, because I assume they know what that is and how to articulate it, and how to address it. Then I can do exactly what they tell me and I then I will be of help. Until then I will help by doing nothing, because I assume that must be what they want if they have not asked me for anything.
Convoluted? Confusing? Actually it may sound like a pile of emotional cooked spaghetti but it is rather simple. There are risks involved in handling things, putting yourself out there and jumping in. Some people can do that. Others can’t.
Think of the burning house. If I call 911 and 20 other people have called the emergency people will just be annoyed (assumption). I can’t help anyone inside because I might get hurt, or see something that will be really upsetting to me. Someone else will do it. It is understandable to be afraid. You might try and fail to help.
But if we are all afraid, and we handle each situation assuming someone else will handle it, will it ever be addressed? Are you not ensuring failure if you do nothing?
There are many assumptions in relationships. I recently was talking to someone about a situation that had occurred in their marriage. The couple had had a row.
My friend said to me, ‘I went to her and asked what was wrong. She said nothing. But it was obvious there was something wrong. I didn’t know what to say or do. So I went down to my office and spent the day doing other things. Now she is angry that she was left on her own to deal with the situation.’
‘Why did you leave her alone? Why didn’t you do more?’ I prompted.
‘Well I didn’t know what to do. I assumed she would come to me and tell me what she needed me to do. I didn’t want to make her more upset.’ He countered.
‘So you assumed that SHE knew what to do and say then. You assumed she would have worked out what was needed, and then involved you. You assumed she was capable of being emotionally okay and would express what the plan was to you. What would she have needed you for if she could do all that?’
He stared at me blankly.
We assume that the other person can be what we are not. That if we do not know what to do, they must. Assuming if we do nothing then we are not causing more of a problem. But what if that is exactly what we are doing?
Consider this. What if by talking things through, we begin the process by which we can get to the bottom of things and develop a plan to handle the situation. What if we don’t give up on the first pass? What if we take a risk or two or ten?
Then perhaps, we leave behind the assumptions and the magical someones, and take action. Large or small. We address things with compassion instead of fear. We work with those around us to see if we can save the family before the fire consumes the house. And though we may come out the other side singed and tattered the fire will be extinguished before it destroys everything, including the people.