My son has a game he plays sometimes where he likes to sneak up behind me and attack me. Sometimes he has a play sword. Sometimes he tries to jump on my back. Sometimes he likes to try a hit-and-run where he pops my rear end and then runs off. When he starts this game, he is in a playful mood and tends to believe everyone else is as well. Sometimes I am and I turn around and play back. At other times, he catches me in the middle of something or when playing isn’t an option and so I either make a subdued response or laugh and tell him that we will play when I am finished. Regardless of my verbal response, my son almost always comes at me again, thinking my response is just the way I am playing the game. Because he is in a playful mood and is thinking that way, he expects me to think that way, too, whether I really do or not. So, even when I specifically tell him I can’t play right this second, he thinks my response is a playful one because his would be.
At another end of the spectrum, Joseph experienced the same kind of mindset from his own brothers in Genesis chapter 50. Several chapters and years before, Joseph had reconciled himself to his brothers. He had revealed himself as the Prime Minister of Egypt, telling them that he held nothing against them for selling him into slavery as a child because God had used that experience to provide for hundreds of thousands of people during a time of intense famine. As far as he was concerned, God had set the whole thing up, so he forgave them. He then took in their families and their flocks, providing for all of them, and reassuring them of his good intentions toward them. But when Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrong we did to him?” (Genesis 50:15). Because they would hold a grudge and pretend to be civil in front of their father (they had already done that) they assumed Joseph would as well, even though he had gone out of his way to reassure them and demonstrate that he had forgiven them.
Quite often, we assume things about how people will respond to certain situations or conversations because we know how we would respond. But those kinds of assumptions normally just get us into trouble. No two people are exactly alike and no two people have the same thought processes, no matter how similar they may be. How can we possibly know how people are going to respond to situations or conversations? The fact that we tend to dwell on a particular event doesn’t mean others do too. And the fact that we have let go of the past doesn’t mean everyone else necessarily has.
Before we make assumptions about what other people are going to do or think, let’s give them a chance to respond. What scares you to death may not bother anyone else a bit and what we take for granted other people may have not yet worked through. Give people a chance to respond. Don’t assume you know how they will react.