My partner, Don, and I had just sat down to enjoy lunch when a stranger approached our table. I thought he must be a manager and was about to ask how we felt about the food. Instead, with a concerned tone he asked me, “Are you feeling better?”
That was so out of the blue! Did I miss something? Who was this man? He acted like he knew me, but I didn’t know him. Perhaps he was a cook and he thought I had gotten sick. So I asked him, “Are you the cook?”
“Cook? No way!” He threw his head back with a loud guffaw. “I don’t cook!”
My state of confusion was quickly escalating. Meanwhile, Don, who was only getting part of the conversation, was forming his own opinion about what was going on, which I learned about later.
As the man continued to talk, I began to realize this was a case of mistaken identity. He thought I was an opponent he had just defeated in a tennis match! Ah, the light dawns. This man was consoling me! That’s why he asked if I felt better! I must have been a poor loser in a game I never played!
Not wanting to embarrass him, I didn’t correct his misperception, and why would I? This warm-hearted attention felt good.
I thought the conversation was about over at this point, but again, I was mistaken. He continued to console me by reassuring me that I had played very well. He complimented me on my skills (I have none) and my competitive spirit. But evidently I had a lousy partner because he blamed the entire loss on her, describing her as “clueless.”
Eventually, while thanking me for a good match, he walked away.
As Don and I shared our thoughts on what had just happened, I realized he had heard just enough of the conversation to be as “clueless” as my “tennis partner.”
He was of the opinion that the man was complaining about a woman who was a member of his cooking staff. “Why was he telling us all that?” Don said. “That guy was nuts!”
“No,” I said, “he was talking about my supposed tennis partner. Didn’t you catch that?”
“No. I just wanted the man to go away and let me eat.”
I spent the next few minutes enlightening Don, and it wasn’t long before we were both struck with the sheer hilarity of it all. It was a clear case of perceptions running amuck for three people. We laughed until our sides ached.
Eventually, we came back down to earth and talked about it as one of life’s many lessons— a course on making assumptions. I recently discovered some research showing that 90% of the assumptions we make are untrue. This tells me we walk around with all sorts of unexamined assumptions. Hmm—that’s humbling.
I like what Pema Chodron had to say about assumptions in her book, “The Places That Scare You.”
“We have two alternatives: either we question our beliefs—or we don’t. Either we accept our fixed versions of reality—or we begin to challenge them. In Buddha’s opinion, to train in staying open and curious—to train in dissolving our assumption and beliefs—is the best use of our human lives.”