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On Assumptions: Things Aren’t Always What They Seem

By Ann Richardson October 27, 2023 Mindset

We don’t think about it much, but we go through our daily lives with a huge range of assumptions about what is going on around us. At least I do. And I expect you do, too.

You’re in the supermarket and a mother is yelling at a little boy. You assume he is her son, and he has done something wrong, although you don’t know for sure.

Poor kid, you think, or perhaps, poor mother. Or perhaps both.

You are walking in the park and a couple in front of you are holding hands and smiling at each other. You assume they are in love and happy, although again, you don’t know for sure.

How lovely, you think. Hope it lasts.

The activities of strangers remind us of the existence of other people and how their lives are different from our own. Sometimes, we create stories in our minds about what is going on.

But our initial assumptions can be very wrong. I have had two examples of this in the last week, which made me think twice. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa. (That essentially means I am very guilty.)

Strangers Talking Loudly

I was on my way to get a flu jab. I had just got off the London underground train and was climbing some short stairs before getting onto the escalator to exit the station. Three people immediately behind me were talking extremely loudly (almost shouting) to one another. You could have heard them from quite a distance.

It wasn’t very serious, but it was annoying. Thoughtless to other passengers. As we stood on the escalator, I said to the middle-aged woman who was part of the group, “Why do you need to talk so loudly?”

I hoped I sounded a bit cross, but reasonable at the same time. I’m not sure I succeeded. I vaguely expected to get a mouthful in return.

Instead, she replied nicely, “He has learning disabilities.” And she went on to explain, “He has trouble communicating, and we encourage him to speak up.” I smiled sympathetically. She then called to him to talk a bit quieter.

I got off the escalator and went on with my task. But it made me think of the difficulties other people face in managing their lives. And what looked like thoughtless shouting had a purpose in this family.

My misunderstanding. My jumping to early inaccurate conclusions.

But this was as nothing next to my confusion a few days before.

A Slow Customer

I am very friendly with the owner of my local print shop because it has been the go-to place for photocopying and printing for my day-to-day work for over 30 years.

I had gone in to ask this long-time acquaintance if he could insert a sim card into my new phone, as I was finding it difficult. He is always willing to do small favours for me. He happily agreed but said his younger colleague would need to do it because his eyes were much better.

I sat down to wait, although I was anxious to get to a pressing appointment. The colleague was dealing with a customer who seemed to have a very complicated print job. Ten pages of this, twenty pages of that.

She talked slowly. She kept changing her mind. Her English was not good. She shuffled her papers uneasily. I was not in a position to argue, but it was highly annoying.

It was going to be a long wait, possibly half an hour I was told. I decided to forget about my phone, hurriedly said good-bye and went out to get on with my day. It might have seemed rude.

I phoned the owner later in the day and apologised.

“No,” he said. “You were fine. I couldn’t explain at the time. That lady had come to London on holiday from Israel, and she had just learned that her entire family had been wiped out by a rocket attack. She was trying to arrange death notices and was in a lot of distress.”

Yikes. What could I say? This put my sim card in its place. I would be equally ineffective in her situation, if not more so. The shop owner and I exchanged thoughts of sympathy for the poor woman. The complete loss of a family at one time is hard to take in.

Things are not always what they seem.


Let’s Have a Conversation:

Have you been entirely wrong about a situation you stumbled upon in a public place? What was your assumption and how far off were you? Do you ever consider other people’s issues may be very different or more important than your own?

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I have learned with time and experience not to assume anything about a situation but it’s always good to get a reminder!


Thanks for a very important article. I’ve gotten older I am more aware of how many people jump to conclusions, often very negative ones, about other people based on erroneous information. I used to do this when I was younger, and as I matured and developed more insight, I learned not to do it. If people would just stop thinking that they know everything about a situation from one observation, everyone’s daily interactions would be vastly improved. And I have noticed that the people who yammer on and on about their intuition are usually the ones who are the most often wrong – they don’t realize that intuitions are assumptions, usually based on their hopes or fears and not based on reality


Thank you for this lovely article. I have been guilty of judging people and situations in my past. Being human, I still do misunderstand at times. But I have learned to be more tolerate of others, Now, I always remind myself that I do not know the full story of any situation, and I do not judge harshly any longer. We never know what our family, friends, and strangers are fully going through, so let’s be Kind to one another. That is my goal – Kindness.

Angie farrar

Stop and think before you act. This is something I have learnt to do as I have gotten older. You can’t always see the pain someone may be going through. It’s takes less than a minute to run this thought through your brain “They may be struggling in life” Think this before you act. X


Actually, no. I try very hard not to make assumptions, because wrong assumptions have been made about me.

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The Author

Ann Richardson’s most popular book, The Granny Who Stands on Her Head, offers a series of reflections on growing older. Subscribe to her free Substack newsletter, where she writes fortnightly on any subject that captures her imagination. Ann lives in London, England with her husband of sixty years. Please visit her website for information on all her books:

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