The other day I was talking to a lady, let’s call her Rhoda, and said ” Hi Rhoda, I am meeting Zack tomorrow.” She looked at me a little confused and asked “What is tomorrow?” to which I responded “It’s Wednesday.” She looked even more perplexed. That is when I hit my head with my palm (mentally) because I realized that once again I made an assumption that clearly was not valid.
Briefly, several weeks ago, Rhoda connected me to Zack as a potential client. Zack and I have exchanged messages sporadically. In the meantime, Zack had to go away, I was away, and so we finally re-connected and agreed to meet on the following Wednesday. Then, when I saw Rhoda, I remembered that she was the one who introduced me to Zack and that is why I mentioned Zack to her. However, during the last couple of weeks, Rhoda met and talked to many people, so the last thing in her mind must have been the fact that she had introduced me to Zack. When I started talking to her, she had no idea what I was referring to. My implicit assumption that she would remember the episode without any prompts from me was just wrong.
My point is that we make assumptions all the time, at all levels. The US government is spending trillions of dollars on the assumption that we will pay our taxes. (Of course, this is a little bit more than an assumption—given that it has the power to enforce this). When we book a flight and schedule a cab to take us to the airport, we assume that the cab will actually show up in time. Of course, once in a while the cab does not show up (even if it is Uber) and we must scramble to make alternate arrangements.
Importantly, we make our assumptions automatically, and frequently without sufficient or erroneous information. One my favorite authors, Robert A. Heinlein wrote a book that became one of the iconic works of the hippy movement entitled “Stranger In A Strange Land.” How he came to write this book is an interesting story that I may relate in another blog. However, in this book, Heinlein introduced the concept of a professional witness. (While many of the concepts and ideas that Heinlein dreamed about became a reality, this is not one of them.) In a scene in the book, one of the characters points to a house up on a hill and asks a professional witness, “What color is that house?” and she responds “This side of the house is white.” In other words, when we see a house with a white side, most of us assume that the whole house is white. However, the professional witness does not make assumptions but recites only facts: she sees that one side of the house is white so that is what she states.
It is important that we are aware of the assumptions that we make and try to analyze them to see if they are in fact correct or not because they affect our lives and the lives of others. For example, Hillcrest has many activities that may be religious, educational or entertaining. One of these is the daily minyan. We (and like Rabbi Kogan, when I say “we,” I am also talking to myself) have heard many times that the daily minyan is very important function of this shul. Studies have shown that whether a shul has a daily minyan or not is directly correlated to whether the shul will survive or not. We know that our minyan is in trouble, and yet many of don’t support it as much as we should.
I am an amateur social scientist (and I emphasize AMATEUR) and over the years I have observed the pattern of daily attendance at the daily minyan. I have come to the conclusion that frequently we do not have sufficient people at the minyan is not BECAUSE we do not care, or we do not have time, but because we make an incorrect assumption. I came to this conclusion because what I see typically is the following sequence: (1) the attendance falls to dismal levels; (2) the Rabbi, president, Chairpersons of the religion committee, etc. make strong statements urging the congregation to attend the daily minyan; (3) 20+ people show up at the daily minyan for the next couple of days; (4) the people who are not regulars look around and see 20+ people and come to the conclusion that the attendance is now back to normal and they are no longer needed; (5) the attendance starts dropping until (6) the attendance falls to dismal levels. Thus the problem lies in the fact that, except for the regulars, we, individually, make the assumption that if one of us does not attend, it will not matter. But of course, if many of us make the same assumption and drop out, the assumption becomes a fallacy.
Moreover, the daily minyan is only one of the examples. Almost all the other activities in the shul need our support. Like with the minyan, we assume that there will be plenty of others who will step up and do all the preparatory work necessary to make the activity a success. However, while we do have a dedicated core of people who do all the work, they do need our help and we should provide it when we can. Don’t assume that there will be enough people to make an activity a success, but instead ask if your help and your expertise is needed.