Making Assumptions: My Painfully Embarrassing Story

Franicia and me right before the start of the Chattanooga Unite parade.

Franicia and me right before the start of the Chattanooga Unite parade.

Have you ever been so embarrassed about how you behaved publicly? I sure have. The last time that I was really embarrased wasn’t that long ago either. As painful as it is, I’ll tell you the story.

Grand Marshalls for a special parade

This past September, my family and I were invited by the City of Chattanooga to be the grand marshalls of the Chattanooga Unite parade. We all felt incredibly honored to be part of the parade and were all so excited.

Running Late. Me: We’re going to miss it!

Getting a family of 8 with Franicia being pregnant and 3 children ages 6 and under ready to leave and leaving ON TIME is no small task. On this particular day, getting ready was taking us much longer than expected. We left the house about 15 minutes after we wanted to. I had visions of lots of traffic and closed roads and was halfway thinking that we’d miss the parade entirely. That would be a bummer.

Thinking those thoughts (they weren’t true, so I shouldn’t have been thinking them) had my heart rate up — I was ramped up on adrenaline once we reached our destination — the starting point of the parade. When we arrived, I was so relieved to see that the parade hadn’t started! The main parade route was closed, but most of the roads around the route were open still!

Let me just squeeze in here

As we approached the intersection at which we were supposed to stage, there wasn’t a way for me to easily maneuver our big Nissan NV3500 into position. Since the cross-street was still in use, I waited for a break in the opposite-direction traffic, pulled our van in front of the police cars that were blocking the parade route, then backed up beside the police cars then behind them…at least I tried to.

The assumptions start

As I backed up beside the police cars, I noticed that I had the attention of most of the people in the area. I can’t read minds, but I assumed (more on that later) that they were thinking,

This crazy guy doesn’t know what he’s doing and is going to mess up our parade! - what I assumed the people on the sidewalks and the police were thinking

At that moment, the closest police car put on his lights, chirped his siren, and started yelling something at me.

This criminal needs to be stopped! - what I assumed the policeman was thinking and yelling

I sounded so childish

I rolled down my window and yelled, “I’m the grand marshall!” As those words came out of my mouth, I realized how childish I sounded yelling at a police officer. What is wrong with me? Why did I let my feeling of being rushed influence my attitude, actions, and interactions with that wonderful, brave, and courageous Chattanooga Police Officer?

He yelled, “No problem, sir. Just let me get out of your way so that you can pull in behind me.”

Maybe we should just turn around and go home

Wow. I felt so dumb. At that moment, I wanted to turn around and go back home. All I needed to do (or should’ve done) was just stop at the intersection, get out of my van, and ask the Police Officer the best way for me to get into position. I’m pretty sure he would’ve said something like, “Let me pull forward and stop traffic. Then you can just pull in right behind me.”

There was a long line of Police motorcycles from several agencies surrounding Chattanooga lined up next to where I was backing up our van. Due to the wonderfully comfortable and safe chairs in the NV3500, visibility out of the back of our van isn’t very good. I’m pretty good at backing up using the big mirrors, though, so I was pretty positive that I would miss the motorcycles. Foolishly, I cared more about not being late for the parade than tapping (hitting) a motorcycle or two. Crazy huh?

Me after I apologized to the policeman for my reaction.

Me after I apologized to the policeman for my reaction.

Just imagine….

Can you imagine how bad it would’ve been if I would’ve hit those motorcycles? There were at least 25 all parked next to each other. If I would’ve hit one, ALL of them probably would’ve fallen down. I would’ve had a REALLY embarrassing scene to deal with along with some pretty upset motorcycle policemen.

This true story is just one example of the many ways that I have foolishly presumed that I knew what was best and that I knew what people were thinking. Instead of REACTING on assumptions that I had made, I should have RESPONDED in wisdom.

Hit the pause button

Michael Hyatt wrote a great blog post related to this topic, “The Space Between the Stimulus and the Response.” I highly recommend that you read this post. I haven’t read the book that he references in that post, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People *by Stephen Covey, *but I hope to really soon!

In that blog post, Michael writes that the space between the stimulus and response is like a giant pause button. Rather than react to everything that happens to us, we can hit that pause button, consider the best response to the things that happen to us, then, with wisdom and maturity, respond.

This is easier said than done (like so many of the best things that we should do), but responding rather than reacting is critical to building healthy relationships and treating people with love! I’m a sinner (if you didn’t know, you are too)! Rarely is my first reaction to things that happen to me the best response. When I have fought the urge to react and hit that pause button before acting, I have never regretted it.

I missed the pause button that day

I didn’t hit the pause button during my embarrasing moment — I reacted with vigor and really regretted it. How I wish I would’ve paused and responded with wisdom and maturity. But, I didn’t. And I learned a lot from that experience.

God knows people’s hearts. I don’t.

I wrote about our policy on hints in our marriage in “Communication: No Kidding” a few months ago. Along the same lines, I have a confession to make — I can't read minds. That sounds silly to say doesn’t it? I’d say so! But I act like I can read minds sometimes. When I do this, I make assumptions, and that’s not good. When I act like I know the intentions and thoughts of other people, I’m being utterly foolish.

Take a look at the passage below when God was telling the prophet Samuel that the one Samuel thought would be the best choice for the next King of Israel was not the one God had chosen, David:

But the LORD said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart. - 1 Samual 16:7

We can see people's actions, but we can't perceive their hearts. What's more, Jeremiah 17:9 says,

The heart [is] deceitful above all [things], and desperately wicked: who can know it? Not only is it impossible for us to know the heart of others, but it’s even hard for us to know our own heart! Only God can truly know our hearts. So why do I act like I know the inner thoughts and intentions of those around me?

I need to believe the best about people

Have you ever noticed that we tend to judge others much harsher than we would judge ourselves.

We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behaviour. - Stephen Covey

Stephen Covey is right on. I'm generally so much easier on myself than I am on other people. All too often, I don't assume the best about people. Maybe that comes from my second-born mentality of wanting to be a people pleaser and being afraid of people's disapproval. Whatever the reason, it's not good. I should believe the best about people — especially those that the Lord brings into my life; especially my family; especially my wife and children. When I don’t, and when I pretend like I can read their minds, I act foolishly, I bring shame upon my self, and I do damage to our relationship. I don’t want to do any of those things!

What if I did the opposite of my natural tendency?

What if I flipped my tendency to judge others more harshly than myself, though, and was much easier on others than I am on myself? What if you did that? How would that change your interaction with others?

Am I alone, or have you ever had an experience like mine? If so (or if you’ve witnessed “a friend’s” experience), I’d love to hear about it.