Lynn Schoener 
August 22nd, 2013 

The Ladder of Inference:  

Humility Keeps You on Terra Firma

"Where are you on the ladder?" This is a question that I have given permission to a co-worker of mine to randomly ask me. It is our subtle way to remind each other to stay on the ground and not run up that ladder making all sorts of assumptions based on a tiny bit of data. I have been discovering a few new things about the ladder of inference. When I am quick to scurry up that ladder, often even skipping a few rungs, and find myself at the top taking action, the top of the ladder is a place of pride. As a way of review:



     We select data from what we observe

          Add meaning to the data we select

                Make assumptions based on meaning

                     Draw conclusions from those assumptions

                         Adopt beliefs about the world (or the person)

                               Take action based on our beliefs.



Generally speaking, the times that I move up the ladder the quickest are times when I make it all about me, and that is a place of pride. God has some serious things to say about pride in His Word. Proverbs 8:13 "I hate pride and arrogance." Proverbs 16:18 "Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall."   That same verse in the Message says: "First pride, then the crash - the bigger the ego, the harder the fall." Ouch! Interesting that pride and falling go together, being at the top of the ladder you can fall off, it is much harder to fall if you are standing on the ground at the bottom of the ladder. The bottom of the ladder is a place of humility. Proverbs 11:2 "When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom."  


I long to have the wisdom that comes from humility. To stay on the ground when I select data, being humble and open to other possibilities to what is happening. To not be so quick to judge, and add meaning that is so very often off target, which leads to those assumptions that are so often wrong. In 1 Peter 5:5 it says, "Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." The bottom of the ladder is a place of grace. We can allow the space and time for explanation and clarification without the added meaning and conclusions. And being humble we can admit that we ran up the ladder, ask for forgiveness and begin the climb back down.


Shortly after my co-worker and I had the conversation over lunch and decided to give each other permission to ask the question, "Where are you on the ladder?" I was given a visual reminder. I had no idea that at the same time I was having lunch with my co-worker, my husband had received a gift of a large ladder from a friend who is moving, and it was delivered that same day. When I arrived home that afternoon, it was leaning against my house! What wonderful timing.  


Whether you ask these questions of yourself or someone you are coaching here are a couple of great questions as you walk back down the ladder.  


  • What do you know for sure?
  • How did you reach that conclusion?
  • Would you be willing to consider another possibility?
  • Have you checked your assumptions about that?
  • What have you already decided about this situation?


Copyright 2013 by Lynn Schoener



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