He Said, She Said
A very dear friend confides in you that her marriage seems to be on the rocks. She tells you all the awful things her husband has been doing and saying and how miserable he’s making her. Of course you take at face value everything she tells you, you sympathize with her and want to support her. But, does it occur to you that you know nothing of her husband’s view of the situation and his feelings?
It so happens that your friend’s husband is one of your husband’s best buddies. Coincidentally, her husband tells your husband how upset he is about his marriage because of his wife’s behavior.
One evening you bring up the subject of your friend’s distress to your husband. He’s surprised to hear the account of the situation you tell him, and shares with you the very different account he’s heard from his buddy. You both come to the realization that the common situation your friend and his buddy are confronting is not one-sided but rather a composite of different issues, viewed and felt differently by each marriage partner.
"Next time we learn of a particular situation that engages or enrages us, let’s ask ourselves 'What am I assuming about this? How am I interpreting this? What motives am I attributing to those in this account or to the person presenting the account? What do I know to be the facts about this?'"
More often than not, we, as a third party, do not understand the SETTING or the FACTS, even though we think we do. And It only gets wilder from there as we begin to INTERPRET the situation based on what we think we know, assign MOTIVES to people's actions, make GENERALIZATIONS that support our conclusions, and take ACTION, e.g., getting angry. Jack Hamliton and Elisabeth Seaman's simple tool, the "Ladder of Assumptions," helps us recognize when we are doing this and climb back down.
Just the Tip of the Iceberg
And, isn’t it like that with almost every human situation we encounter? How often do we stop to ask ourselves, “What else is there to this story?” The news is full of accounts given by or about someone or a group of people. We tend to grab onto and side with or oppose what we hear, see or read, without stopping to consider, “Hey, what else is there to this situation?”
Hopefully these questions prompt you to examine your Ladder of Assumptions to clarify for yourself the information you have received, and then get additional information you may need, before coming to any conclusions. As a result you’ll be more caring about others, and more knowledgeable and understanding about what goes on in our world.