Assumptions are a dangerous thing. They rank right up there with Expectations in their ability to raise you high up and then drop you flat. Unrealistic expectations are very common with new missionaries, and a little education ahead of time can save you buckets of tears. But Assumptions are culturally based and are harder to shake. We bring our American assumptions about how we think things SHOULD function, and the challenge is to accept the reality of our new environment without labeling either culture with Superiority or Barbarianism. That’s not an easy thing to do.
In our family, we have a tag line that most often precedes an assumption. We say, “You would think…” before we make an observation about something mind-boggling in our reality. For example we might say, “YOU WOULD THINK that they would have planned a detour route before they tore up the highway.” Or another assumption might be, “YOU WOULD THINK that someone would restock the shelves after I bought all the shampoo in the store last month.” Oh, and the list goes on and on and on…
It’s rainy season here in Costa Rica. As a matter of fact, it’s almost always rainy season here. They have a joke that says we have two seasons in Costa Rica, wet and wetter. A few months ago we were having a major problem with the connectivity of our internet. Last year we had the same problem and we called for a repair guy to come out. Several weeks later, someone came out and replaced a little box of electrical connections in front of our house. He said, “There’s a box out here where your internet connects to the cable in the street. It gets rain in it and shorts out or molds. Then it needs to be replaced every few months.”
My first instinct was to ask, why don’t you use a waterproof box? It rains more often than it is dry here. YOU WOULD THINK someone would have thought of using a waterproof box in a city that was built in a rainforest! My word!
Last night it happened again. My assumptions about how things should be done took advantage of my sleepy state when at midnight the doorbell started ringing… and ringing… and ringing… and ringing some more. We had a very hard rain last night and the electrical connection in the doorbell shorted out. YOU WOULD THINK that people would ALWAYS use a waterproof box when installing electrical wires in an outside wall. YOU WOULD THINK! It seems so logical to me. And when I’m tired and angry at being woken up every 15 minutes by the doorbell, it’s hard not to accuse the whole country of lack of forethought.
YOU WOULD THINK they would have trained us missionaries in how to handle cultural assumptions before they threw us into the deep end of the pool. But sink or swim, this is how it’s done. We have to guard ourselves against the frustrations that come when our cultural assumptions clash with the reality of the culture we now live in. I say we have to guard ourselves because after a while, frustration gives way to anger. Being angry about something in the culture is about a useful as being angry about the wind. We can’t stop it nor control it. All we can do is to practice tolerance.