Thursday, November 15, 2007

Assumption Penalty

I had the opportunity recently to attend a party to celebrate one of my friend’s 20th anniversary running her own business. It is quite an accomplishment and I was honored to help her mark this amazing milestone.

I wanted to give her a gift to commemorate her achievement, and settled on a gift card for one of my favorite Seattle restaurants, Anthony’s Homeport. This is always a great choice because there are several locations and people have a lot of options for how to use their gift.

I also wanted to give her a bottle of one of my favorite wines, Far Niente Chardonnay. This is where the story gets interesting. For years I have purchased wine at a particular grocery store with a great selection and a knowledgeable staff. A little over a year ago, I heard that this chain (Larry’s Markets) was going out of business. There were 3 stores in my local area and all of them were to close. One day I was having some auto repair work done near one of the outlets and noticed their ‘going out of business’ signs. I was sad, because it was a great store, and the wine selection was unequalled in any other store in my area.

As I searched for a place to buy this particular bottle of wine for my friend’s gift, I went from one store to another with no success. The selections weren’t extensive, and this is a fairly nice wine. I finally ended up going out of my way to a very good wine shop and found what I was looking for. It took a lot longer than I had planned because I’d been to 3 other stores before I finally went to the specialty shop (which was quite a distance out of my way).

I went to the party and had a marvelous time. It was really a pleasure to watch my friend basking in the glow of her friends’ support and admiration. She was delighted with the gifts I had brought for her. We talked a bit about the wine, and
I told her how much trouble I had locating it. The first question she asked was, “Did you get it at Larry’s Market?” I said, “Larry’s closed.” She then told me that they had closed 2 of the stores, but not the store in one of the towns closest to where I live! I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! I drive by that location almost every single day! I had simply assumed that it had closed with the other two locations and I never even glance over there anymore. I ‘heard’ it was closing, saw one of the other locations actually closing, and assumed that my branch had closed as well. It truly amazes me, because just a few days before the party I was shopping at a drug store that shares the same parking lot with this particular Larry’s market. I assumed Larry’s was closed and therefore it didn’t exist for me! I was within 20 yards of the front door of the store, and it simply was invisible as far as I was concerned.

I think we experience this phenomenon quite frequently in life. We make an assumption about whether something is or isn’t true, is or is not possible, is or is not available to us and we operate from those assumptions, often in the face of a glaringly different reality! I believed Larry’s was closed… and so I created a reality where it did not exist, even though I drive by it four or five times a week. Astounding!

I’m reminded of the story that is often told about how elephants are trained to not run away from their keepers. It is said that the trainer will attach a strong rope to the baby elephant’s harness and then attach the rope to a stake that is firmly planted in the ground. The baby elephant pulls and pulls on the rope and stake to try to venture beyond its tether, but to no avail. The combination of the stake and the rope is far stronger than the baby elephant. The elephant continues to struggle and fight against its physical restraint until it learns that it is futile. The frequency of its attempts to break away gets further and further apart. Finally, it no longer struggles. The baby elephant accepts its situation and no longer tries to move further than the rope allows. From that point on, all that is necessary to keep an elephant from walking away is to attach a small rope to its harness, and drape it over a fence or around a stick. The elephant has learned that rope=confinement. It doesn’t try to walk away, even though it is actually not restrained at all. Even if it were tethered to the same type of stake used for training a baby, a full grown elephant could easily pull the stake out of the ground and go on its merry way. It has accepted the reality of being confined, based on past experience, even though its current reality is completely different! Amazing!

We do this too. Our assumptions, often based on past history, or the opinions of others, often becomes our reality, even when it is completely inaccurate. We imprison ourselves with our beliefs and our assumptions.

I could have gone to a wine shop that was literally right next door to one of my other errands that day I was picking the gift for my friend. Instead I spent an extra hour running around searching for something that was essentially right in front of my nose! I was just like the full grown elephant, standing there with a small piece of rope hanging from my harness, when I could have simply walked away with ease and comfort.

This pattern is well worth looking at in our life experiences. We often have far more options than we think we do. We screen and filter out things that don’t fit our version of reality. It might be time for a bracing reality check! Whose reality do we believe in? I know I, for one, don’t want to be a prisoner any longer! It’s time to strike a blow for freedom!

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