What are Your Hidden Assumptions about Yourself?

by Jan 6, 2019Coaching, Education, Reflective Practice, Theory0 comments

One of the Facebook groups I started a number of years ago, Actor-Network Theory (ANT), has chugged along over the years as a communal hub for those of us interested in the theoretical and methodological aspects of actor-network theory.

I promise the geekery in this post will end in a moment . . .

This theory can be challenging to grok, so looking at the great online encyclopedia Wikipedia, we find:

Actor–network theory (ANT) is a theoretical and methodological approach to social theory where everything in the social and natural worlds exists in constantly shifting networks of relationship. It posits that nothing exists outside those relationships. All the factors involved in a social situation are on the same level, and thus there are no external social forces beyond what and how the network participants interact at present.

This opening of the article to me is rather clear, but that is because I wrote it.

Yes, in my volunteer efforts editing Wikipedia, this was one of the challenging terms I tried to make easier to understand, so rather than just wish it to happen magically, I decided to learn how to do it and take action. You know that Wikipedia is edited and monitored by millions of volunteers, right? Happy to show people how to do this, but that is for another post.

Anyway, I thank my colleague Radhika Gorur who shared a journal article she recently published to get me thinking about the assumptions we often walk around with about how the world works, and how often they go unchallenged in our minds because we don’t see them. 

After all, why should we see our own assumptions?

We do not know what we do not know, and as a result we often believe things about our lives and our place in the world because we do not know any other way to think about it. How would I know some of my beliefs about myself, my community, my entire world is based on my own making sense of my experiences and the knowledge I have gained, none of which is comprehensive or objective or necessarily true in itself?

This is something that is at times referred to as a black box, where we have complex systems that we think of as if they are permanent, or at least complete, and then build our lives around them. We black box our beliefs as if they are the only beliefs that really matter, and are undoubtedly shared by all!

How can I have any objective knowledge about myself, anyway?

Moreover, how can anybody else have objective thoughts about me, either? Given this, what assumptions do I have about myself that are or are not shared by others?

So, where does this leave us? This is what I posit — having an insight into this leaves us open to the opportunities to do something about it. That is what this post is really about, in that becoming aware of the assumptions we make permanent and unexplored in our lives is the first step in being able to actually explore them. They do not have to remain in the black box, not if we decide to actively explore and change them.


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About Me

Jeffrey M. Keefer, Ph.D., is an educational consultant, institutional researcher and accreditation officer in higher education, professor of research methodology, nonprofit capacity building and strategic planning consultant, talent development coach, spiritual life advisor (chaplain) at New York University, spiritual director, and Wikipedian.