A Case for Always Assuming Good Intentions

Humans are meaning makers, we love to "make sense" of our experiences and the way our brains do that is by constructing stories about the things happening around us and to us. The problem is, we can only create these stories based on the information available to us and often we have incomplete information. It's impossible to know what other people are thinking or to have all of the details sorted out, so we fill in the gaps the best we can and end up making up stories that fit the narrative that makes the most sense to us. Unfortunately, in our own minds, we are usually the hero of the story. We are the good guy and that leaves everyone else to play support roles or villain roles, but it's always way more complicated than that. Slowing down and trying to see the nuance and truly understand other people's perspectives benefits everyone in the long run. It is the epitome of grace and it can change how you see the world and relate to others. 

This meaning making process plays out in a thousand small and big ways in our lives every day. A person cuts you off on the way to work. You can tell yourself that they are a jerk- careless, insensitive, and selfish. Or, you can assume that maybe they genuinely didn't see you or that maybe they are trying to get to a loved one who is having a crisis. You ask your spouse to do something and they forget. You can tell yourself that they don't care about your wants and needs, that they are self absorbed, insensitive, or a bad listener. Or you can assume that maybe they literally forgot, maybe something more important distracted them, or maybe they have too much on their plate right now. A person disagrees with you about a belief you hold deeply. You can assume they are an idiot or you can recognize that there is a reason they hold that belief and seek to understand the information and experiences that led them to feel that way. It happens all day every day- we make stories up about what's going on in the world around us. How you approach those stories matters. 

Here's what I would challenge you to do- 1. Assume good intentions always, 2. If you have the opportunity for dialogue, seek to understand, and 3. Repeat that cycle forever. Assuming good intentions doesn't hurt you at all. It just relieves you of the pressure to be angry or hurt or to feel shame. It prevents you from making assumptions about who a person is or how they feel about you. It keeps you from making up stories that are untrue. Seeking to understand will help you learn. It will build your relationship with the other person. It extends grace in its most basic form. It helps them to feel seen and heard and it gives you information you need to confidently make sense of the experience. You know the easiest way to figure out what somebody meant with their actions or how they feel about you? Ask them. It's really that simple. There will be people in your life who are toxic, who do not have good intentions, who will lie and manipulate and deceive, but in my experience those people are few and far between. Most people are good and are doing the best they can to navigate the world. I would also argue that one or two bad experiences with a person shouldn't forever color your understanding of who they are. People are nuanced. People mess things up. People do things driven by emotions that they would never do "in their right mind". Keep assuming that they had good intentions and give them an opportunity to explain themselves and do better. Keep coming back to the mat and doing the work, it's so worth it.  

The next time you feel anger or hurt or resentment rising up in you, try to slow down long enough to sort out if there is evidence to support your understanding of what happened or if you're making up a story that serves you, filling in the gaps with information that may or may not be true. Then, always seek the truth. 

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On Death & Dying: Preparing for the End When You're Just Getting Started

There's a large cemetary my son and I drive by regularly. It's tucked in between a highway and shopping mall. It makes me sad to think that someone can end up buried for all eternity next to an Olive Garden, but I guess there are worse places to end up. One of the first times we drove by, my son commented about all of the pretty flowers. I explained that it was a cemetary and that each one of those bouquets represented somebody who had died. He responded with a simple "oh". The next time we drove by, he asked me why people die. I explained that eventually our bodies just break down and that it happens to everyone, but hopefully not until we're very old and have lived a full and happy life. Most recently when we passed by, he told me that he didn't want to die. I told him that I didn't want him to die either and that hopefully it wouldn't be something he had to worry about for a long long time. We've never shyed away from the topic of death. It's an inevitable part of life and I'd rather lay a solid foundation than have my son's first encounter with the idea be at the time he loses somebody he loves dearly. We don't talk about death enough in our culture, especially when we are young and so alive, but I think that cheats us and our loved ones of a lot. Not only does it leave everyone emotionally and mentally unprepared, it also puts people in a terrible situation should they have to make decisions about the end of our life without knowing our wishes. 

My own first up close encounter with death happened when I was twelve years old. My grandfather who was dying of cancer moved into our home under hospice care and spent his final weeks of life in my childhood bed room. There aren't words that can adequately describe what death looks like up close. It is messy, it is hard, it is difficult to watch and hear and smell. But it can also be still and quiet and mundane- full of routine...shift changes, med administration, and the business of dying. Since that initial experience, the cycle of loss has repeated itself a few times in my life.

And then there's the bizarre nature of grief. It catches you off gaurd in moments that you thought were safe. It hits in the lyrics of a song or in the midst of a memory or in the small quiet moment when your mind is still enough to soak in the loss, the absence of what was. It has no respect for boundaries or context. It floods in all around you and swallows you whole before you even know what's happening. In my early twenties when my grandmother died, I remember going through her calendar and calling to cancel her upcoming appointments. When I got the receptionist at the podiatrist's office, I told her that I was calling to cancel an upcoming appointment because unfortunately, my grandmother had died. She burst into tears, sobbing on the other end of the line. I found myself, the grandaughter, comforting this stranger on the other end of the line. "I'm so sorry for your loss", I said quietly before hanging up the phone. I've laughed about that encounter many times over the past several years. How strange grief is. 

Most recently, death has come knocking at my door as my husband and I prepare our will. It feels strange to talk about our end of life wishes while we are young and vibrant and pretending like we have decades before we need to worry about such things. But the truth is, death waits for no man and has no respect for our own personal agendas and plans. It comes when it wants, sometimes swiftly and often unfairly. The process of discussing our end of life wishes was eye opening. We each learned a lot about ourselves and each other. We vulnerably had to ask people to take on the immense responsibility of raising our son should something happen to us. We had to reflect on our hopes for his future, a future that might not include us. Despite the number of tears I've shed thinking about leaving too soon or losing Dustin before I'm ready, I am also confident now that I know his wishes and that he knows mine. I know that I will not burden my family for weeks on end, draining them of our assets as they try to cling to me, because they will know that I don't want that. I know that my ashes will be spred in some of my favorite places, becoming a part of something new. I know that our son will be well cared for and that we are setting our extended family up to successfully and comfortably raise him for a future that is bright. 

It might seem silly to have an attorney draw up a will at this stage of your life, while your family is young and just getting started, but I'd argue that this is the most important time to do it. Your loved ones should have no doubt about what you want to happen, to you or to your children. You should give them as many tools and resources as you can to carry on in your absence. The transition for your children should be as smooth and seamless as you can make it. You should give your loved ones the freedom of knowing what you want and give yourself the peace of mind to know that it will all be okay. Don't be afraid to confront the end of your life, it makes the living part that much more beautiful.  

 

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Dealing With Your "Stuff": The Hard Work of Healing

If you've been following my writing  for more than five minutes, you know expressing emotion is difficult for me. I was never an overly emotional child but then, in my teenage years, I experienced some trauma and being emotionally numb became a coping mechanism. Feeling anything meant feeling bad things and that didn't really sound all that fun to me. The problem is that when we try to bury and forget trauma, it inevitably comes back to bite us. If you need any evidence of that, just look around. The political and cultural times we are living in are the direct result of our being a nation that stuffs the hard and messy parts of our story down. Way down. And now, we are living in a time where past hurts are coming back to the surface to wreak havoc. It's sort of like when you move and you shove a box or two...or maybe five...in the back of a closet, too exhausted to unpack them. Eventually those boxes get dusty, but they never disappear or unpack themselves. Eventually you have to deal with them. But why did you pack the boxes in the first place? And why haven't you unpacked them yet? What are you dragging around with you that's too important to throw out, but too difficult to face head on? 

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Here's a piece I wrote a while back that I'd love to share with you about how my own box has followed me around. 

"I'm Fine"

I opened my mouth and your name fell out. It shattered on the floor and I tried frantically to pick up all of the pieces and shove them into my pockets before anyone noticed, but it was too late. My hands were covered in scrapes and blood was dripping down my arms but I just kept yelling “I’M FINE! I’M FINE! I’M FINE”, pushing everyone away from my mess. 

Let me help you, they pleaded. 

Let me get a bandage for your wounds. 

Let me stay with you until the bleeding stops. 

But I just kept saying “I’M FINE! I’M FINE! I’M FINE” 

I retreated to my bed with pieces of you all over me and I tried to put it all back together again but I could never get it all to fit quite right. I put you in a box and shoved you in my closet on the highest shelf in the furthest dark corner, hoping I could forget that you were there. At night, when the world was dark and still, I dreamed that you were coming for me. I pulled the covers over my head and I whispered to myself “I’m fine...I’m fine...I’m fine...”

I moved out of that house but I carried you with me. I just could not seem to leave you behind. One day when I was cleaning near the shelf where you lived, I bumped your box and, like a tsunami of black glitter, pieces of you filled the air and scattered all over my life. 

My husband tried to help me dust the pieces away but I would not let him touch you because I was scared he might get hurt too. 

When I visited my parents, I was careful to ensure that I had dusted you completely off of me. 

As I teach my son about how to treat others, I pray that one day he will not be a box on some woman’s shelf while she is a slave to the mantra “I’M FINE! I’M FINE! I’M FINE” 

I hate that box you live in, the one I can’t seem to throw away. Although the years have passed, I keep finding glitter in the cracks and crevasses of my life and I cry as the words I can’t quit saying swiftly move to my lips- “I’m fine...I’m fine...I’m fine...”.