Conversations between writers about writing often can shine a light on a new perspective for one or all about the craft, but over and above that, on life itsownself. When that happens, I feel as if I’ve attended a workshop with a stellar, world-wise, talented presenter. If possible, I’ll scribble a few notes on the spot. Thank goodness for paper napkins.

That recently occurred in my Sea Island Spirit Writers crit group in a text string, of all places. In our previous meeting, one member had read the latest entry in a growing short story collection she’s penning, and while discussing the tale, she remarked that her main character was flawed. She wondered if his flaws made him less of a sympathetic character. For clarity, a sympathetic character is one a readers can identify with and cheer on, so to speak. Just so you know, this particular writer always creates such a strong sense of place that we fellow members feel as if we’ve visited after every addition. Thus began a text “chat” that sparked interest among us.

Details of this fictitious man aren’t important to the point of my column, but let’s just say, he had issues that would make a daughter’s father greet him as a prospective suitor with a loaded shotgun. His saving grace, however, was a gigantic, kind heart. Even if a reader hated some of his actions, you’d have to love this guy. You’d have to assume he’d just missed some important upbringing and was doing his best. Which wasn’t always great. And you’d have to see beyond the flaws, and as a writer, our member made that possible.

Because no one is writing our daily lives for us, sometimes our flaws are all that people see. A person may have developed a persona woven of “faults” as protection from a past horrific incident or a shame. Thus they may wear a “cloak” of a completely different personality to cover up traits that may make that individual vulnerable to being hurt emotionally or physically. For instance, if a soldier returns from conflict with PTSD or a coed is raped at a college party, the soldier may adapt an identity of a constantly tough, angry guy, while the woman may become reclusive, especially if neither seeks expert professional help. Childhood experiences, say, incest or domestic violence, may have the same kinds of results if left untreated.

All that is to say, we can easily make assumptions about other folks because of the character they present to the world, when in truth we’ve no idea what lies beneath. Years ago, I remember physician, author, and spiritual speaker Deepak Chopra as a guest on “The Oprah Show.” A story he told has stuck with me. As featured speaker at a conference, he noticed that a woman on the first row kept making negative comments and asking unrelated questions during his presentation as if she were trying to make some vague point. At lunch break, he saw her sitting alone and asked if he might sit with her. Over the course of that meal, he learned that she’d suffered years in foster care with cruel caregivers and finally adopted a “don’t give a damn” attitude in order to survive.

The takeaway for me was that Deepak wondered why her behavior was seemingly so aberrant and he took the time to find out. His whole concept of this poor woman changed when he discovered what lay beneath the personality she presented to the world.

Says Don Miguel Ruiz, author of the New York Time bestseller The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, “The problem with assumptions is that we believe they are the truth…. The way to keep yourself from making assumptions is to ask questions.”

Assumptions in personal relationships can be an important enough issue to destroy a friendship, a work-related relationship, or a committed loving connection. The “mind-reading syndrome” is a perfect example, when one partner assumes the other knows what she wants, when in fact, he has no clue. Then he gets in trouble for not carrying out her wishes. Capiche?

“Assumptions are the termites of relationships,” says actor and author Henry Winkler, who’s been married to Stacey Weitzman for 46 years. The Fonz knows.

Like everyone else, my dad certainly had his foibles. But according to his fellow physicians, he was a superb internist. The thing I most remember about him was the fact that he treated everyone alike. Whether a patient was the mayor of my little hometown in Western Kentucky or a farmer trying to make ends meet in a hardscrabble existence, they needed his help and during treatment time, they were his entire focus. Assumptions were not in his medical bag. And if a house call patient was having a hard time, he’d sometimes sit by their bedside all night. Even as a wee tyke, I was amazed at this obviously remarkable level of caregiving.

Giving other inhabitants of planet Earth an open, unassuming mind, especially if they are different than you, is a treasure of a gift. If you’ve visited Disney World, you’ll recognize the following lyrics that I first heard at the 1965 New York World’s Fair: “There’s so much that we share/that it’s time we’re aware/it’s a small world after all.” You never know what you might have in common with someone when you stop assuming and begin giving them a chance to connect in a different, caring way.

Lest we assume too frequently, actor Alan Alda offers a bit of life wisdom. “Begin challenging your own assumptions,” he proffers. “Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.”

Taking the time to keep your “windows” sparkling clean requires being as present as you can as much of the time as you can, so you notice they need a scrub. You might just see a new friend through those spotless windows.