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For Today, Don't Make Assumptions

Two women in their forties wearing the same T-shirt
Image by Midjourney

How about just for today, when you're tempted to make an assumption about how someone is feeling, what they're thinking, what their beliefs are, or what kind of person they are, you bring your attention to yourself instead. Set an intention to notice when you're jumping into an inference, and instead shower the person with kindness and compassion, and turn your gaze inward.

"Shared Interests, Shared Essence: Unraveling the Psychology of Instant Connections," discusses the similarity-attraction effect, wherein some people extrapolate shared worldviews from individual things they have in common with others, and then respond by liking those with shared preferences.

Sometimes life’s most meaningful relationships grow from the briefest of connections. Like when you go to a party and meet someone wearing your favorite band’s T-shirt, or who laughs at the same jokes as you, or who grabs that unpopular snack you alone (or so you thought) love. One small, shared interest sparks a conversation—that’s my favorite, too!—and blossoms into lasting affection.

We like people who are like us, which I'm sure is responsible for certain hiring decisions as well as dating decisions. This self-essentialist reasoning is a belief that we have a deep core essence and it drives our preferences. When you work backwards with that, it would mean you could assume what someone's core essence is like from their preferences.

So if you bump into someone at a friend's house who happens to be wearing the same obscure T-shirt as you, you assume your core essences are similar as well. (And of course you prefer them to the person next to them, equally unknown to you but not wearing the lucky T-shirt.) This is a heuristic—a shortcut, guide in our head that tells you who's like you and who to like. It's an assumption, and it's reasoning is awry.

My Erroneous Assumptions About Vegans

Decades ago when I first went vegan, my assumptions were that I would like anyone who was also a vegan and we would have much more in common, deep down, than veganism. Even at that time, when there were far fewer vegans than there are today, my logic was faulty. I quickly discovered that all kinds of people decide not to eat or wear animals. And I was no more successful figuring them out or being friends with them than with non-vegans.

At a time when we seem more divided than ever, it's important to pay attention to the ways you exclude people mentally. You could be forfeiting the opportunity to get to know a huge swath of humanity and unwittingly digging your heels deeper into your "team" for no good reason.

Rather than jumping to like one person over another, pause and ask yourself what mental shortcuts you're taking that might be faulty, silly, or even harmful in the long run.

May ease find you.


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