The Problem With Assumptions

braying-donkeyHave you ever heard the statement, “If you assume, you make an ass out of u and me!”?

Guess who is kind of an ass today.

I’ve had some really big changes happen in my life over the course of the last few years, but maybe one of the most unexpected has been suddenly having a relationship with my brother Michael. After decades of silence, suddenly we are talking again, and I have to admit, it is both exhilarating as well as terrifying.

Trust was a casualty in his and my life long before we ever even stepped into kindergarten. In fact, in all five siblings, there is a deep current of distrust between all of us. I can’t put my finger on the exact moment we all decided we couldn’t trust each other, but nonetheless, it is there. I’ve racked my brain to find the exact situations that made me decide I couldn’t trust each one of them, and the truth is, most healthy families have tolerated a million worse things from each other than anything any of my brothers and sisters have ever said or done to me. That makes me think that the atmosphere of the home had more to do with all of this than anything any of us have ever done to each other.

In the few weeks that Mike and I have been communicating again, we have had to address this underlying current of pure dadmikecathiedistrust a few times. He and I each have our own storage bin of wounds we feel the other one caused, and though I believe we both had long ago forgiven each other for those perceived wrongs, they were still there in our hearts, filed away and ready to be used to erect a wall for us to protect ourselves. I was presented with an opportunity this morning to pull out those reliable bricks of security and start erecting the wall. Instead, though, I chose to just be vulnerable to Michael instead, in the hopes that we can finally put to rest this ridiculous exercise once and for all.

Please do not misunderstand me…. I am just as quick to believe the worst about my brothers and sisters’ motives as any of they are about mine. It is just absolutely insane!

What is the point of trying to have a relationship with a person if you are just going to end up wrecking each other all over again? I do not want to repeat the mistakes of my youth and ignorance. I want to love my brother; I want to see his kids graduate; I want to make Thanksgiving dinners, and see my Dad beam in pride with every step of success my brother achieves. I want to pick up the phone to discuss Dad’s health or plan a vacation to each other’s houses. I want all of these things, but I am afraid of them too. I, like Michael and the others, do not know what any of this should look or feel like. I’ve never had it either. But I want to try. I have a feeling it would be nourishing, stabilizing, and fulfilling. I also feel like it is going to be a lot of work, learning to interact with Michael as another person I care about, and not like some insane member of an age-old blood feud that even I myself only partially understand.

I want the past and all of its mistakes in a grave, never to show their faces in my life again. I want something better for all five of us. And if I want that, then it my job to change my cowardly reactions to being vulnerable first, and stop worrying about how any of the other siblings might have dubious agendas when it comes to me. The fact that these shadowing fears of mine never actually manifest themselves in reality but only hide in the long silences between us is enough for me to accept, they probably don’t really exist at all. No one is out to get me; and I am not out to get them either.

brothers and sistersToday, Michael read my post about Dad, and it hurt him. There was a whole side of the story that I did not know then, and from his perception, it was blatantly unfair. In my defense, though, I had to tell Michael that part of that post I wrote out of sheer anger because of Dad’s pain, but also because I was beyond furious that Mike refused to even let me disagree with him in public. I was basically trying to initiate some sort of response from him that would prove he cared at all about any of his family, even if it was only to be pissed at us. Or, put simply, I was picking a cyber-fight with him.

Of course, when I wrote it, and he never even once responded to any of it, I added another little bleeding brick to my arsenal. In the end, it really never even once occurred to me that he hadn’t seen it, and thus, the lack of reaction. Instead, I assumed he just cared so little, he wasn’t going to be bothered with answering it.

When Mike and I started talking again a few weeks ago, I figured he was letting sleeping dogs lie by never mentioning it. I thought we were starting fresh, so I didn’t mention it either. Today, I got the reaction I was hoping for back in June, only this time, it sucked.

The truth tends to be pretty black and white in my mind, which is why I am always careful to remind readers that I write from my own vantage point only. That goes double if I write when I’m pissed off. I can’t even count how many times I’ve written something in the flames of a rage only to have to come back later and apologize or clarify. I’m passionate and impulsive….rarely, a good combination.

When I wrote that piece, I did so assuming I knew what Mike was thinking. As usual, I had interpreted Michael’s silence in the for fire-blushworst possible light, and assigned to him motives that were not really what was actually going on. For instance, even though I knew for a fact Dad had tried to reach out to him over the years, I have no actual proof that Mike had actually known about any of these attempts. None of them were directly sent to him, only to others around him. Also, what was interpreted as a snarky comment about our father, was, in Michael’s perception, a commentary statement aimed at our stepfather, who in my book, deserved it and more. Sadly, that thought had never occurred to me either. The truth is, there is actually an obituary on the internet for a man with our father’s same name, and we do not have a common last name. Another truth is, just as I have been growing and changing all these years, so has Michael. About the only things about us that have remained the same are the old childhood wounds and our traditional reactions to them. By assuming I knew who he was all these decades later because of the limited knowledge I once had about him when we were kids, I ended up completely wrong about a lot of things.

So, Michael, I hope you will accept my humble apology for attacking you on the internet, and for always assuming the worst about you, instead of the best. I have to unlearn some pretty crappy things I picked up long ago, but I promise you, I will no longer assume I know something to be a fact without even stopping once to think I might be wrong. Instead, I promise to go to you first and find out what is really going on. You know, basically the same amount of respect I’d offer anyone else in my life.

I’m sorry.

~ Your Sister, Cathie

7 responses to “The Problem With Assumptions”

  1. Well done for manning up… isn’t it amazing that these same brains that fill in the gaps of obscured vision are so quick to fill in gaps in communication as well? Bless… I surely hope there is healing of the beach. 🙂 Either way, You have done the right thing here. Well done.


  2. Family relationships are so difficult to clear up… It’s especially so I found out when done by writing emails instead of talking on the phone… There are no emotions in emails that are evident..only words that can and were misinterpreted… but at the time calls were not really an option. The more I tried to clarify things the more confusing it seemed to get.. and it’s taken over a year to get to the point now where there is actual communication. I find it hard though not to clear up things said or misinformation or ‘assumptions’ made in error… I hop you are able to really ‘communicate’ and forgive each other… Diane


  3. Very well written. I do know that Michael has had to forgive me so many times through our friendship. But when relationships make the turn it’s always for the best. Thanks for writing!


  4. Your last post about your brother was extremely well written and so was this one. There is a passion evident in your writing, you speak from the heart. It is impossible to do this without sometimes being wrong.

    I sincerely wish you your happy ending and believe you have opened the door to achieving this.


  5. I was drawn to this title since I have been making assumptions this week, over various members of our church worship band and who has/hasn’t left following a big argument, and I got a couple of assumptions wrong, based on gossip that I did NOT check out and mythbust before I shared with others (which is so unlike me).

    Here I go banging on about that book ‘Undiluted’ again, but last night I read the chapter on forgiveness, and at first I thought it had little to say to me, but it took a brand new look at a well-known parable. It was moving. We all have hurts in our lives that pile up like unread books, and new hurts just remind us of all the old ones that are still to be read and understood…

    Hope you get to understand all those books you never managed to read, or accept that you may never get around to it, and let them go (much like many of my bookshelves lol).


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