Friday, December 18, 2009

Please DO Assume

If you've been there, you've wanted to kill. Maybe it was a school project, maybe it was at work. Let's say it was your boss, and he was griping that you did something wrong, made some wrong decision based on wrong data, and you make the critical mistake of using the word "assume". His face lights up, his mouth twists into a grin: I think "glee" might be the word to describe what he's feeling. He grabs the chalk and scrawls in huge capital letters ASSUME, and if he's smart and has done this before, he leaves space between the letters for what he is about to do, so it looks like A S S U M E. Then he says smugly, oh so very smugly, probably feeling like the spider just before she pierces her victim to suck out its juices, "You should NEVER assume" and here he pauses pregnantly then goes on "Because when you assume", another pause,"You make an ass" as he circles the A S S with a flourish, then separately circles the U and the M E, crisply clicking the chalk on the board with each circle, and finishes, almost quivering with delight "out of YOU and ME!" Then, in that moment, the normally calm passive compliant subservient sweet you would, if you were "packin'", pull out your weapon and blow his stinking brains all over the room. And you would walk away feeling justified. For just a short moment, you hate him more than you ever have or ever will hate anyone.
Imagine if at that moment, due to his smug lesson, you learned said lesson and ceased to assume. First you would have to check before every step if the floor were still solid. You would have to ask him if you should come in to work the next day, even if you should go home that evening, if you should continue to work on the same project, if you could continue to work from your office, if you would still be allowed to use the company rest rooms, if you should wear clothing to work, if you were still going to be paid for your work and if so, in money? You would have to call the Secretary of State before you could drive home to see if the traffic laws were still the same, you would have to call your spouse to make sure you were still married and still lived in the same house; you would have to ask at the grocery store if the groceries were safe to eat and if they took any of your formerly useful means of legal tender. And even with all that asking, you would have to ask if they were telling the truth or lying that day and we all know how those games go round and round.
No, your boss was the only ass in the room at that moment when he laid out his cute little visual aid for you, because we do and must assume thousands of times every day, constantly all day long. We assume the laws of physics and the laws of the land and the social mores still apply like they did yesterday. The dictum to "Never assume!" is preposterous beyond measure.
Instead of his useless theatrics, in this that could have been a fine teachable moment, he could have asked questions about what you assumed that was lead you astray and helped you understand why that particular bit of assumption was not appropriate and how in the future to differentiate between the few things that you must verify and all the rest of the things that you could safely assume.
If anyone ever pulls this on you, don't stand for it, but please don't blow them away either. Chances are, if anyone on your jury has been there, you will be acquitted, but don't risk it. Besides, your tormentor might have family. Just calmly begin to ask them questions about things that we normally assume until they get the point. Make it a teachable moment for them and save future students or employees the ridiculous lesson. Together, we can stamp out the smug and completely erroneous "Never assume!" and its aggravating little anagram.
And if you have ever done this to anyone, DON'T EVER DO IT AGAIN. DON'T. EVER. DO. IT. AGAIN. In fact, I suggest that you owe a sincere apology to every single person to whom you have committed the "Don't assume" atrocity and you should track them down and apologize. Perhaps with chocolate. And John Ostrander, this does mean you!


XSarenkaX said...

Shall I assume that you will delete this comment? ;)

Chuckles said...

Is it safe to assume that John Ostrander will never read this post?

goprairie said...

I wish John would read it because I could sure use some chocolate right now!
I am pretty sure that in my time at Bell Labs, both he and Johnny Collins did the A S S U M E thing tho it may have been on a white board with markers and not a black board with chalk. Accountability is a good thing. Still, I would forgive all for chocolate. "Trinidads and Truffles", Godiva truffles, or best, Rocky Mountain Choc. Fact. fresh truffles!

Sylvie said...

I think that it was Stuart Smalley ( who said "When you assume, you make an ass out of Uma Thurman."

Chuckles said...

I don't know who this Smalley guy is, but I think I like him...