Marolt: Discovering what you are looking for in others
Assume good intentions. I’m not specifically asking you to keep an open mind on this column, but it would be a good start.
“Assume good intentions” is the mantra of our new high school principal, Tharyn Mulberry, or that’s what somebody told me. At any rate it’s such an incredible way to confront any kind of situation where you feel you might end up at odds with another human being that I bet he won’t mind getting credit for it from me. My intentions are good.
It’s not so much that I want to give advice here. It’s more like discovering a magic trick and telling you about it. It’s so simple, yet so effective that I believe it can change lives. That’s a dramatic and overused statement, the signature of late-night hucksters who are trying to trick you into buying devices and potions that will allow you to lose weight and gain or lose hair, depending which would make you look better, as you sit on the couch and, well, watch late-night television.
This brings me to an important point. The late-night pushers of cheap gimmicks that can be bought on easy credit for four times what they are worth mostly do not have good intentions, unless making themselves rich is a good intention, which by itself is not unless you honestly believe you can help someone else in the process, which I don’t believe they do.
Obviously not all people, not least or most of all television advertisers, have good intentions. Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean we can’t benefit from giving them the benefit of the doubt from the get-go. Allow them to prove themselves wrong, rather than you digging your heels in at the beginning and then having to waste a bunch of energy proving that you are right. Most of the time when we put ourselves in this position, we have to run the other people down pretty good just to make sure we are justified.
If, on the other hand, we start by giving the salespeople the benefit of the doubt and then figure out what they’re selling isn’t for us, we can back away gracefully saying, “thank you, but that isn’t for me.” In this approach, our decision is based solely on what we discover about the product, not the people selling it. Once we know we don’t want or need what they are selling, there is no need to pass judgment on their motives for trying to sell it.
We have a lot of bickering in this community. We also have a lot of good, well-intentioned people living here. Something is wrong when you get a lot of the former from a lot of the latter. I think it’s because we assume bad intentions from each other.
A new building bigger than we’d hoped gets approved by Town Council and we assume a hidden agenda. A new academic schedule is implemented at the high school and we assume that the teachers and administrators are evilly trying to destroy our kids’ lives. A referee makes a bad call at the middle school soccer game and we think she’s hell-bent on ruining our budding midfielder’s chance at a college scholarship. I could go on.
I’m certainly not saying that nobody should speak their mind, if they have a different opinion on any matter. I am saying that we should approach any debate by assuming that the people we are debating are doing the best they can and are trying their hardest to make things better. See if that doesn’t soften your approach toward them, even if you vehemently disagree.
This is kind of like the wheel. It’s so simple, so obvious and so effective, why on Earth didn’t I think of it? The difference is that the wheel works instantly to make our lives easier without requiring much trust while giving everyone the benefit of the doubt from the get-go takes a little more effort and trust before it can make our lives better.
I am trying to use this approach with Donald Trump. I now assume that he is doing what he thinks is good for the country. I still think he’s wrong. I still think he’s a racist. I believe his presidency would be bad for the world. But here’s the thing I’ve discovered: If I assume his intentions are good, then I begin any discussion with his supporters on the same footing. I think that’s the only way of getting them to consider my opinions.
Roger Marolt believes, if you assume the worst of people, you will bring it out of them. firstname.lastname@example.org
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