Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Assume Positive Intent

It makes life simpler when we categorize everything and everyone and put them in boxes, right? If someone cuts you off in traffic, you can assume they are a bad driver, probably an inconsiderate person and, oh yeah, because of all those things they probably hate puppies, too. The guy in front of you in line at the self check-out station at the grocery store who is taking forever must obviously be stupid.

It was a while back that I heard someone say that "we judge the intentions of others by their actions, but we judge our own actions by our intent." When I am the one taking longer at the self check-out, it's because the machine won't scan fast enough - I'm trying to go quickly. If I ever accidentally cut someone off in traffic it's because I was trying to get around another inconsiderate driver.

This tendency can cause huge problems in community. It's one thing to be frustrated with a random person at a grocery store and an even bigger problem when we start to put labels on people with whom we need to be in community. A line from the Associate Dean during our orientation stuck with me and has been festering over the last few weeks: "Assume positive intent."

We all come to situations with our own experiences and often baggage. If I'm having a bad day, and someone says something, and I take it in the wrong way, it's very easy to fall into the trap of assuming they meant it in a negative way. Once you take it that way, you assume that person is generally mean or does not like you very much. (You become "in the box" toward them.) And once you view them that way, every action that you observe of them only reinforces your opinion.

This is a very dangerous line of thinking. For starters, while I may have a bad day and snap at someone, this does not mean that I am ALWAYS snappy. We need to be careful about the labels we apply to others (and to ourselves, for that matter!). We like to think in terms of absolutes, but people never fall into absolute categories. More importantly, doing this can destroy community. It can lead to gossip and slander and can also destroy the opportunities that we could have from being open to everyone and their input into our lives.

So the challenge I am giving myself for the rest of this week (and beyond) is to give everyone a blank slate every time I meet them, and to assume positive intent.

1 comment:

Metal said...

Thats a tough challenge! A while back I posted something similar on how we generalize people. You can read it here-