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Encountering Assumptions

by Donna Fyffe, Ed. S

When we commit to the transformation of the collective soul, it is imperative that we call ourselves to be consciously aware of our perceptions and assumptions. As humans, we constantly make judgments, draw conclusions, and make assumptions throughout the day.  For example:


  • I assume when I get out of bed the floor will support me.

  • I assume from the smell emanating from the kitchen that someone is making coffee.         

  • I assume from the look on your face you are angry, bored, or surprised.

  • I assume the severe weather is going to slow traffic going to work.


Pause for a moment and ask yourself: What are you assuming right now?


Exploring Assumptions

To understand assumptions and their power, we need to become aware of our tendency to make inferences from our realities.  For example.  “Sister Mary Jane is walking down the hall and passes the Congregational Leader who is rushing past her as if she doesn’t see her or is avoiding her.

Mary Jane automatically assumes that the leader is angry with her.

What comes to Mary Jane’s mind is the last advisory meeting where she made some critical remarks about a proposal presented by the Congregational Leader.

 The more Mary Jane thinks about this, she realizes the leader hasn’t spoken to her since that meeting. Mary Jane feels like she is getting the cold shoulder; her feelings are hurt so she tells herself the leader doesn’t really want advice, and that she is not sincere in seeking advice from others.”

Contemplative Pause

Take a long loving look at Mary Jane’s situation. What triggered her reaction to the Congregational Leader?  What did Mary Jane infer is the reason for the Congregational Leader’s behavior?


Consider what if Mary Jane checked out her assumption with the leader, what could be a different explanation?  For example:


  • She’s late for a meeting.

  • She was pre-occupied.

  • There was an emergency.

  • She was unwell.


When we don’t check out our assumptions, we make judgments and then we act on them as if they are the truth. Mary Jane will continually look for situations where she is sure the leader is going to ignore her even if she isn’t

What Are Assumptions

Assumptions are the stories we tell ourselves about a situation. They are habitual and instinctual. They are impacted by the meanings we put on situations and eventually our assumptions become our beliefs which aren’t always true. Acting out of false assumptions negatively impacts ourselves, our work, and those who are meaningful to us.

Pause for a few minutes. If you have access to a computer:

While the following event may be familiar to you, please view it now with fresh eyes.

  • Notice your assumptions about Susan Boyle, the audience, and the judges as you watch the clipping.

  • Pay attention to what you are feeling about each of them.

  • Ask yourself, what triggered your assumptions? Where are they rooted within you?

  • This is a prime example of what assumptions look like in a real situation.

Exploring the Ladder of Inference

Let’s continue exploring assumption by using the following Ladder of Inference developed by Chris Argyris, a world renown organizational consultant.   

The base of the ladder represents the extensive stimuli within our physical setting. The second step represents what we focus on out of all the stimuli. Pause your reading, look around the space where you are. What do you see? What do you notice? What sounds are you detecting? If there is a lot of stimulation around you, be aware of what you select to focus on. 


When we focus on something, we often make an assumption about it, and then we add a personal or cultural meaning to it that we learned over time through our family, socialization, in Church, during early years of formation. Building on these applied meanings, we make a conclusion/judgment true or not about the situation.  The conclusion/judgment become a belief out of which we act.

Contemplative Pause

Take a moment and ask yourself, what assumptions do you hold about your community life, about your family of origins, or about the Catholic Church? 


What within your life experiences shaped your assumptions and/or beliefs?


How are they shaping your choices and/or behaviors?

Assumptions and Transformation

Assumption work is important in our transformative work. We all make assumptions about life, events, and each other. We all have different perceptions as to what is going on in our communities, families and ministries. These assumptions can be true or not true. They can form a wedge between us keeping us from hearing each other let alone understanding each other. Assumptions happen in an instant.  We need to slow down and take a long loving look at our reality to notice them. We need to ask ourselves where our assumptions are rooted and if they are still true. This is a good way to clean out those bulging file folders.


Remember – you have to slow down in order to notice assumptions and to become aware of your filters or biases. This awareness enables you to know your authentic SELF more clearly and to experience transcendent human freedom. In this place of freedom, you can choose who you want to be; how you want to function; the type of world you want to create. When you slow down, attend to the other and check out your assumptions and biases, you will be more open to see the sacred mystery in the other person instead of relating to their objective self. Relating to the other person’s objective self can cause you to be violent, ignore the other, turn them off, and miss who they truly are. 


During the next weeks, connect several times with your Pathway Companion or form a practice group. As a group, take time to notice your assumptions about your life together in community. Share your assumptions with one another. Practice uncovering where you are on the Ladder of Inference.

Have you drawn a conclusion about someone; about the community? Have you made a judgment about them?

What triggered that judgment?  Did something specific come to mind?  (Name a concrete situation.)

Where is that judgment rooted within you?  Where did the judgment come from?(What personal or cultural meaning did you apply to the situation?)

​​Check out your assumption for truth.  This yields freedom.


Meeting consistently over time for about an hour to share assumptions and to explore together what you are learning about yourself and your beliefs is rewarding. You slow down and live with more awareness. 

Conclude this time by journaling or drawing your insights these reflections have given especially as you consider your assumptions.

© September 2022,  Donna Fyffe, Ed.S. CommunityWorks, Inc.                                  

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