Ten Bad Assumptions

You know what assuming does, right? It makes an ASS out of U and ME. – My tennis coach

Our world is complicated, full of gray areas, complexity, nuance, and small details that a casual observer doesn’t see or understand. No one can be an expert in everything. If I spend my entire life studying nothing but aviation and business, I won’t have time to become a doctor or a PhD in psychology. When we encounter gaps in our knowledge, we often fill in those gaps by making assumptions based on what we already know. Sometimes it works great. Other times, we can be way off.

This topic holds particular interest for me because I am frequently the exception to many people’s faulty generalizations. I am a man who likes yoga and spas, a former Baptist who drinks, a Texan who votes Green or Democrat, a Dallas native who cheers for the Redskins, a straight guy who supports gay rights, a writing major who dispatches airplanes for a living, and a white guy who likes Ludacris and Snoop Dogg.

Here are some bad assumptions that I’ve seen people make or made myself:

  1. All male flight attendants are gay. Many are, but certainly not all. I work with a happily married, straight guy who started as a flight attendant.
  2. All Hollywood actors are tree-hugging, socialist liberals. Ask Clint Eastwood and his empty chair about this one.
  3. All Christians are pro-life, pro-gun, anti-tax conservative Republicans. Those Christians seems to get the most press (see Franklin Graham and Robert Jeffress for easy examples), but there are also plenty of Christians who are pro-choice, anti-gun, pro-tax liberal Democrats. Both sides use the Bible to justify their positions. Both sides are right. Both sides are wrong.
  4. All airline pilots are male. True, the vast majority are, but a few are not. I would guess that my airline’s pilots are perhaps 4-5 percent female. At work it’s tempting to assume the captain is male, which occasionally leads to awkwardness when I address a female captain as “sir” out of habit instead of “ma’am”.
  5. All fat people are lazy and indisciplined, and all skinny people work out regularly and eat well. Such a gross oversimplification is easy but terribly inaccurate. One’s weight is a product of many factors beyond diet and exercise, including genetics, hormonal status, disease, age, and others that we just don’t understand fully. Some people win the genetic lottery and look good even though they eat terribly and never work out. Others work out like crazy and diet constantly but simply cannot reach their target weight.
  6. All students at ______ University have rich parents. Not necessarily. Many take out massive student loans. Some work part- or full-time to put themselves through school. Some are veterans who are taking advantage of the GI bill. Some get scholarships.
  7. All Americans consider the Christmas season a time of joy. Many Americans follow other religions or no religion and do not even celebrate Christmas. Even among those who do celebrate it, some become sad this time of year. Perhaps they lost a loved one in recent years and feel the loss more strongly now. Some have lost their faith and are reminded of how different their life used to be. Others are struggling financially and are ashamed and angry that they cannot provide the kind of Christmas celebration for their families that they would like.
  8. All Baylor students are Baptists who don’t drink. HAHAHAHAHA. Um, I had friends at Baylor who were Muslim, Catholic, charismatic, atheist, and of no religious affiliation. And yes, some of us did drink on occasion.
  9. All women who have abortions are young and promiscuous. Some are married and monogamous but don’t think they can afford another child. Some have medical issues that make pregnancy dangerous. Some made a one-time mistake and are terrified that someone will find out.
  10. All Christians save sex for marriage. Nope, only about 10 percent, roughly the same as the general population.

Oh, and don’t forget the ever-popular “All the people who disagree with me are idiots.”

You probably noticed the common thread among these bad assumptions: the word all. Each person is unique, a combination of his or her genetics, experiences, thoughts, teachings, and chance. It’s unwise and potentially harmful to generalize broadly about any group of people. Most likely, you can find exceptions to your generalization if you take the time to look deeper. Speaking of tendencies rather than absolutes, using most or some instead of all or none, seems like a better approach.

What are some bad assumptions that you have heard, or even made yourself?