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5 poisons of the mind – #5 – surprise

The last of the 5 poisons of the mind is itself surprising. After all, who doesn’t like a surprise?

But in this case I am talking about a kind of surprise that works against us. It’s a way of surprising ourselves. We might call it anticipation. And here’s why it’s dangerous.

Suppose you are planning to ask your friend to lend you something. In the past there had never been a problem borrowing things from this friend. So you call him up and ask how he is doing, and then proceed to make your request. But instead of getting an easy yes, you get a “No”. In your mind you had anticipated getting a positive response, and so you had already begun thinking about what you would do after your friend granted your request. Now you are stuck. His response was a surprise you had not anticipated. Your plans are now in trouble.

In this simple example the stakes are not high, and you could probably work around not being able to borrow something from your friend. But what about when the stakes are higher? We often make assumptions about what will happen in our lives, how others will react, and anticipate what we will be able to do based on these assumptions. In many cases our assumption are correct – or close enough. But when things don’t work out, the consequences can be dramatic.

What about a car that fails to stop at a light and simply drives through the intersection? Surprised? You thought the driver would stop.

What about the storm that doesn’t look very threatening until you hear hailstones hitting your car? Surprised? You didn’t think it would be this bad.

What about the well-dressed man who tries to rob you? Surprised? How could this be happening to me?

I’m not saying we should be paranoid. But we must be aware of the assumptions we are making about the people and circumstances around us. If we fail to do this we will, at some point, be surprised. We will believe that what we assume about the world and people around us is the reality. It isn’t. And while we may have options – avoiding the stray driver, hiding from the storm, or fighting back again those who try to take advantage of us – these choices may not be very good ones. It’s better to know up front what we are assuming and make even a minimal plan to preserve our choices.

No one wants to be a victim, but our anticipation and assumptions can make us vulnerable. Hence the 5th poison of the mind – surprise.

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