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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Choosing to See Miracles: Faith in the Face of Uncertainty

I'm not sure that I believe in the traditional idea of God. It's tough for me to imagine a God in the sky, willing to send his precious children to hell when they fail to accept His gift of grace. I'm not exactly sure what I believe these days. It's hard to put into words and ever-evolving. There are principles and teachings from many faiths that ring true to me, and many traditions that I am "unlearning", but there is one thing that keeps me coming back to the traditional Christian understanding of God and that's the sense that almost everything is a miracle. We rarely take the time to slow down and recognize this truth, but it's one that speaks deeply to me.

The first and most basic miracle that trips me out every time I think about it is the fact that I am alive. Do you know how many things have to go right for a baby to be born? There are so many systems that have to be working just right for an egg to even be fertilized. And then to carry a baby to term is a miracle all it's own. At least 20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage and that's probably a gross underestimate because many pregnancies end long before a woman even knows she's pregnant. And then there's the birth process. What a mess and how many things can go wrong in those harrowing hours of bringing a child into the world. And now as a mom myself, I think of all the potential accidents that can happen throughout a childhood. I've managed to stay alive for thirty years. The systems in my body keep doing their job every day. I've somehow avoided a fatal accident. So many things have had to go right for me to wake up this morning...things far beyond what I can explain. 

The other miracle I think about often is the miracle of my marriage. Literally generations of people had to make certain precise decisions for Dustin and I to end up together. Who they married, where they moved, jobs they took, children they had...it all led to me finding him. We don't often think about how the seemingly small decisions we make today will impact the generations following us, but they do. My parents each individually decided to enlist in the Marine Corps and the universe aligned for them to be stationed in the same place, in the same platoon. They decided to fall in love and get married. They decided to raise me in Louisiana near my dad's family. They chose to raise me in a certain faith tradition and church and Dustin's parents decided to move to our church in a pivotal moment in their children's lives. And all of those decisions, and thousands of others before that, had to happen for us to ever cross paths. What if they had made different choices? On that spring break when I came home from Boston, Dustin decided to come hang out at my house with mutual friends. What if I had decided to go somewhere else for spring break? What if he had decided to stay home that night? What if I had never decided to move back to Louisiana? I just can't explain how all these things aligned for us to end up together, but they did and there's no doubt in my mind that we were meant to be. It is bigger than a choice we made, it was destined. 

And the list really goes on and on. Albert Einstein is quoted as saying "There are only two ways to live your life: as though nothing is a miracle, or as though everything is a miracle" and I find that there are miracles happening all around me every single day- some big and many impossibly small. My life is not perfect, but all around me there is magic that I can't explain, that science can't explain, that I have a hard time believing is just random chance. So I choose to see miracles and that gives me hope that there is a God working in mysterious ways, a God worth praising and seeking, a God worth coming back to over and over again despite my doubts, questions, and disbelief. 

 

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