Presumption : almost always wrong


We all know the adage that when you assume, you make an ass out of you and me: ass|u|me. The adage is meant to warn us not to assume intent of others when viewing actions, communications or decisions. It’s a fair warning, because text cannot imply the intent in the same fashion as the recipient perceives that message. It is in fact, one of the easiest things to twist into a meaning that was never there, never intended and certainly not even contemplated.

William of Ockham, a Franciscan friar and theologian, posited an idea that was true then as it is now. Popularly known as ‘Occam’s (sic) razor’ – the law of parsimony or the idea that entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity. This is commonly paraphrased as the simplest explanation is often best or closest to the truth.

Given the rather acrimonious state of the current world, it seems that principle is often thrown out of the window – tossed aside in an effort to divide from within. People actively presume the worst or jump into hyperbole in order to ‘make points’ that are lost on the audience when they presume some sort of evil intent in any (and often every) action. It isn’t hard to find these examples, a simple viewing of social media, any feedback forum, or any open forum where someone can provide feedback will prove that the complaints far outweigh complimentary feedback.

Maybe it is a by-product of the age, maybe it is a by-product of our current system, or maybe critical thought in education is simply not getting to the point of really communicating the need for emotional intelligence. I am not certain what the problem is, but I do know that there is a large group of people that believe living unfiltered and with anger in their hearts is somehow going to make things change – they seem to think that presumption can be shared as ‘proof of intent’.

I disagree, as I know that people are complex beings and will have differences of opinion. I know that messages are tested and floated as experiments as much as anything else. It would be nice to understand every message’s clear intent, but we should never presume that intention. This is why it is best to seek first to understand. If you do not understand, ask questions to derive intent. This is why no one should design in a vacuum if they expect their product to succeed.

We all know or have examples of products, tools and technologies we use that we question a choice as made. That doesn’t mean it was done to make things wrong or to cause discomfort, and it doesn’t signal evil intent. Although, if you talk to some folks, the first reaction is to launch into a rant about how stupid this or that choice was, or how everyone in that company is to blame for their perception of the state of this thing X.

It simply isn’t so, someone made a choice because they are human beings and because we don’t know their processes, pressures and decisions that are forced upon them. It isn’t very human to fail to seek to understand those choices, decisions and timelines. Every company has the time-to-deliver an MVP on the table in the digital world, and budgets, people and timelines are things that change constantly.

Maybe it’s me, but I don’t ever expect perfection from anything built by humans (or computers for that matter, they were designed by humans after all). I expect reasonably good enough to be functional and get shit done. That is what it is meant to do, solve problems. Code and product do not have ‘intent’ unless there is some written manifesto by the developer saying that their product is intended purposefully to ruin everyone’s day, you can’t presume that is the intent. Well, you can, but you’re just wrong.

The same can be aid to be true of opinions; when they presume intent without seeking to understand first, they’re coming at the issue from preconceived notions. If I don’t like X and I go to every forum that discusses X and denounce it and everyone who discusses X as evil, then I am to blame for being pigheaded and a troll. That isn’t getting shit done, that’s being an arsehole.

What we need to get shit done these days is to learn about that word that we all need to revive: compromise. If that word can’t be used to understand and work on our differences, someone, somewhere will falsely presume intent and nuke us all. Tolerance, understanding and compromise are far too little taught in our system. Critical thinking and seeking to understand what someone means are the best outcomes for all concerned.

If there is anything I hope that we can all share, it is the intellectual curiosity to understand that diverse thoughts can provide unique ways of solving issues. When we fail to listen first, ask questions and derive answers to first understand intent, then we are not learning, thinking or caring for the human beings at the other end of the conversation. There is no perfection in life, there are only attempts to work and cooperate with one another. If we approach each other with humility, humanity and understanding, we won’t presume intent.

If we start from that premise, we can’t be stopped. The we can build partnerships with meaning. I know many won’t agree, but if you’re a reader, I hope you can understand where I come from is a place of seeking first to understand without judgment and without presumption.

Till next time folks. Have a nice day, don’t worry, be happy!

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