Make charitable assumptions

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One of the ground rules I often set in mediations is not to assume what the other person’s motives were in any past action.It seems to be a natural assumption that when someone does something that hurts me, they must have intended to cause that harm.

Assuming someone’s motives are related to (or directed toward) us is a natural way that we filter information about the world around us. We do this all the time.

I remember one summer driving to the park for my 4-year-old’s soccer game. Parking was limited enough on normal days, but someone had parked his or hertruck longwise, taking up at least four of the best parking spots. Naturally, I assumed the driver was an inconsiderate lout who simply did not care how far others had to walk (carrying folding chairs, snacks, water bottles, cameras and all the rest of the necessary equipment).

It wasn’t until we were leaving that I realized I had been very uncharitable in my assumptions.  By the time the game was over, the inconsiderately parked truck had been replaced with barricades to protect cars and people from the falling branches caused by the tree trimming that was being done. I then appreciated how clever and thoughtful that driver had been, to protect my car and others’ by blocking those spots before the game started.

Instead of assuming the worst about why other people do what they do, it is very freeing to make charitable assumption about the motives of others. You can’t know why the driver cut you off in the left turn lane, causing you to miss the light. So why not assume she had an important reason – one that if you had known, you would gladly have given up your spot? You don’t know why the bank teller was surely this morning. Why not assume his day so far would make you surely, too?

We’ve all been in circumstances that make it hard of us to be as considerate as we’d like to be.  If we work to give others the benefit of the doubt, and make charitable assumption about their motives and circumstances, we get the benefit of having greater peace.After all, who does our frustration and bitterness really affect, the person that irritated us, or ourselves and the people we live with?


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