Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Suppositions: Why are our worst enemies?

In an occasion Buddha said that: "your worst enemy cannot make you as much damage as your own thoughts", and this phrase comes in handy when we deal with suppositions.

Every day we make hundreds of suppositions though we do not realize it. When we spoke with a colleague at work, walking in the street, when we take a coffee at the bar and even when we’re in a shop buying something. However, the most interesting thing is that the whole process occurs unconsciously. We suppose many things, but we are not aware of the influence of this kind of thinking. In fact, suppositions are like a fellow to escort us in the journey of life, but remains barely noticed.

But ... what is a supposition?

Supposing means making an hypothesis based on the evidence we have to come to a conclusion that we take for certain, but there are good chances that it’s not. The main problem is that the suppositions we take for granted, those that we do not question, ends up assuming the role of absolute truth when really are only a possibility among a wide range of options.

The classic example is that of a woman waiting for her husband at home, and for some reason he’s late. She begins to connect the points (following a logic that exists only in her mind) and concludes that he didn’t come yet because he is being unfaithful to her. In fact, if the person is insecure and jealous, experience the natural tendency to interpret any situation as a sign of infidelity and therefore reaches a conclusion (which may be true or not) but she considered it 100% accurate.

In this way, we build a drama on a misconception. We make suppositions about how others think, feel and act. And the worst of it, is that, we react emotionally to this idea because we think that’s true. And we know that our brain does not discriminate much between reality and what we think is real. Let’s say that, returning to the previous example, the brain of that woman didn’t care much for the husband to be really cheating or not, she convinced herself that this is true and become angry and sad as consequence.

As you can imagine, suppositions are the source of many discussions and conflicts in many relationships, because people starts judging from a basic idea that they consider for granted and close themselves up to any other argument.

Why we suppose?

Our brain hates uncertainty and chaos, and as if it were an efficient secretary, it loves to program, organize, classify, draw conclusions. The brain tries to give sense to our environment and the things that happen to us.
The problem appears when things do not make sense, when we feel insecure and distrustful. In those cases we try to find an explanation among environmental signals. However, we are not able to objectively evaluate all these signs but we chose the parts of reality that help us give sense to either one or the other hypothesis. As soon as we reach a satisfactory conclusion (and I highlight the word satisfactory, because supposition should fit perfectly in our system of believes that we have already established so that in our brain, that loves organizing, won’t arm a chaos) we adopt it as the valid one.

For example, everywhere in Europe, in recent years, have been developing a strong xenophobic sentiment. Actually, there are reasons for and against the arrival of foreign immigrant, but those who already had been contaminated by the seed of xenophobia (a system of prior beliefs) only see the negative examples ignoring the positive.

Can we stop supposing?

To be honest, to give up supposing is definitely complicated because it is a natural mechanism, a deeply rooted tendency to seek answers and explanations everywhere and in everything. What is really important is to learn how to educate our suppositions so to lower their impact on us. So the next time you're supposing something, before taking it for granted, ask.

In fact, asking questions and seeking others opinions is the best way for us to expand our horizons and include new perspectives in our analysis. If a person is late for an appointment, do not suppose that…, just ask what happened when he/her arrives. If it seems like your boss have been staring at you in a strange way, do not assume that you have been caught, do not develop paranoid ideas, wait for the right moment and ask him/her.


Keep feeding your neurons

Suppositions: Why are our worst enemies?

Jennifer Delgado Suárez

Psicologist by profession and passion, dedicated to string words together. Discover my Books


Psychology as you never heard about...

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