Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Danger of False Assumptions: Keeping Creativity and Discovery in Balance

Our minds have an incredible ability to fill in the blanks. Think about it. If you've been trying to call someone you're close to for several hours and they don't answer, what happens? Your imagination takes over.

Suddenly, your mind is creating multiple narratives to explain why the person isn't answering their phone. Some of the narratives are good, but I would bet most people's imaginations automatically run to a string of worst-case scenarios.

Interestingly enough, we are all inherent storytellers. It seems to be designed into us. Give us an incomplete picture of a situation, and our minds will rush to fill in all the gaps.

I think the inherent storyteller in all of us is a great thing, and I think the world would be a much greater place if everyone both recognized and embraced their creative side.

But there's a danger as well.

Sometimes our imagined narratives turn into assumptions about a situation. The narratives we create to fill in the blanks of a situation aren't usually limited to just one. 

For example, why is he not texting me back? The possibilities are endless, but we'll imagine just a few:
  • He's angry about something I said to her earlier
  • He misread my text message with the wrong tone
  • Someone stole his phone
  • Someone kidnapped him
  • He got into a car wreck
  • The battery on his phone died
As you can see, each of these created narratives that are formulated to fill in the blanks of the situation are possibilities. That's an important distinction. Narrative possibilities don't demand that we believe one is absolutely true. We can't know which, if any, is true until we gain further information about the real story.

But we often ski a step, jumping from many narrative possibilities to one narrative assumption. We go from completing the picture with many possibilities to trusting that we know exactly how the picture should be completed.

The danger is that we often make decisions based more on narrative assumptions than possibilities. And we could be wrong.

Imagine again the scenario that you've called your best friend multiple times and they don't answer. Your mind will automatically develop multiple possible explanations for why they won't answer, but then it happens. You come upon that one explanation that, in your mind, makes the most sense, and you latch onto it.

Welcome to the land of assumptions.

So what's the verdict? Why aren't they calling back? They're ignoring you because they're hanging out with their much cooler friends, of course. They can't be seen talking on the phone with you. How dare they?

Suddenly, you're devising all the possible ways you can get back at them for treating you so poorly. Meanwhile, your best friend's phone is in their couch where they lost it hours before, and they've been searching frantically for it ever since.

The danger of jumping from narrative possibilities to narrative assumptions is that we stop searching for answers. We think we've already got them.

But we don't.

Many of life's events provide for us a source of mystery. Our role is take the possibilities we create and do the work to discover the genuine answers to the mysteries.

As inherent storytellers, we're called to both discover and to create. We can't create to the neglect of discovering. 

We have to keep learning. Keep asking questions. Keep discovering.

Let the possibilities be endless and let the assumptions be few.

Where have you allowed assumptions to incorrectly guide how you saw a situation?

Photo Credit: wilhei55 via PhotoPin CC

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