UNCOMMON COMMON SENSE
By Bill Frayer
The Devil Is in What We Take for Granted!
Assumptions get a bad rap. How many times have you heard the admonition, “Don’t assume anything?” When we make assumptions, the thinking goes, we are liable to leave important things undone or, worse, not anticipate troublesome complications. You may have heard the cute admonition, when you assume, you make an ASS out of U and ME! This is an oversimplification since assumptions are both necessary and reasonable, sometimes.
What is an assumption? It’s what we take for granted. Implicit assumptions are accepted without question. For example, we choose to take a job offer with a higher salary, based on the assumption that a higher salary will make our lives better. Maybe. We might assume a particular medication will work for us as well as it has for someone else. Again, maybe.
We could not function every day if we did not make some assumptions. When you make an appointment, you assume you will still be alive when the appointment is scheduled. When you deposit money in a bank, you assume the money will be secure. When you start your car, you assume no one has installed an ignition bomb under your vehicle. If we did not make many assumptions every day, we’d never get anything done!
Sometimes we make explicit, or conscious, assumptions. When you planned your retirement, you probably made specific assumptions about how long you might live or how much money you would need every month.
So, obviously, making assumptions is not always a bad idea. They can be a problem when we base our behavior on unwarranted, or unreasonable assumptions. For example, if you bought gold today assuming that the price of gold would continue to rise at the same rate it has over the last year, you could be very disappointed. If you don’t make any arrangements for how to pay for catastrophic medical expenses because you just assume you will only have minor medical expenses, you may end up financially ruined. We all make unwarranted assumptions sometimes. It’s a good idea to examine our assumptions so we can make sound decisions.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of assumptions is their integral role in reasoning. When we formulate conclusions, we always rely on one or more assumptions. When we purchase IMSS medical coverage to cover large medical expenses, we assume that the IMSS system will provide good medical care. If we did not make this assumption, this decision would be unreasonable.
When we want repairs done on our house, we interview contractors and decide on a price, we assume the contractors can do what they claim. When we go online to choose the cheapest flight to visit our families, we assume that the cost of the flight does not correlate with the safety of the flight. This assumption is necessary to reach the conclusion to choose the cheapest flight. When we choose to sell or give away most of our belongings and move to Mexico, we are assuming that this move will be permanent and that we will not return to live in the United States or Canada. When we forego fatty foods and try to eat more vegetables, we assume that our diet directly affects our health.
In other words, whenever we make a decision, or draw a conclusion, about virtually anything, we are necessarily making assumptions, often important ones. If our assumptions are unwarranted, our conclusion will be faulty. Take a look at some important decisions you’ve made and try to identify, explicitly, what assumptions you are making. If your assumptions are reasonable, your decision is more likely to be a good one.
Next month I’ll examine the role of value assumptions in formulating our opinions.
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