In 1980, Suellen and I moved to Mexico where I was invited to teach at the University of Guanajuato. A lovely mountain town about 200 miles northwest of Mexico City, Guanajuato is rich in history, culture, and tradition. It’s the heart of the Bajío, a broad, fertile region known as the breadbasket of Mexico. Graham Greene’s novel, The Power and The Glory, uses the Bajío as a backdrop.
My students were in their twenties and getting married and having babies. During our year in Guanajuato, Suellen and I were invited to any number of “baby welcoming” parties. About a month after a baby arrived, the parents would host a party to introduce the baby to family, friends, and neighbors. It was like being a very small debutante.
The parties were quite touching. Attendees took note of the fact that a new member of the community had arrived. We implicitly agreed to help the child grow and prosper. We also told stories, offered advice, and gave presents.
At many of the parties, the baby did not yet have a name. I often asked about this: “Why haven’t you named the baby yet?” The more-or-less standard response: “We’ve only just met him. We need to live with him for a while to learn which name fits him best.”
I sometimes noted that, in the United States, we typically named our babies well before they arrived. To which one of my students remarked, “No wonder you gringos are so screwed up. You all have the wrong names!”
So when should you name your baby? It was a question I had never considered before… and that’s the point here. A central tenet of critical thinking is that we should question our own assumptions. As the world has changed, have our assumptions changed as well? Are they still valid? Were they ever?
But how do you question your assumptions if you don’t realize that you’re making assumptions? I assumed that one should name a baby before it arrives. I never questioned it. Why would I? It’s the natural order of things, isn’t it?
So, how do you uncover your unknown assumptions? Here are a few things that have worked for me:
Questioning your assumptions doesn’t necessarily mean that you should change them. You may find that they still work quite well. We didn’t change our baby naming assumptions, for instance. We named Elliot well before he arrived and he turned out just fine (I assume).