Assuming positive intent.

I wrote this six years ago. I’m pretty sure that I need the review. You might, too.


A couple weeks ago I heard Bob Goff talking about relating to people. He said that he’s trying to live out Paul’s words from Philippians 2:   Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

He said that he’s taking the approach, when working with people, of asking “What’s the least creepiest explanation for what they just did?”

I’ve been thinking about that a lot since I heard him. Because most of us are skilled at identifying the creepiest motivations for other people’s actions. They are trying to hurt us, they are inherently mean, they believe we are stupid, they want us to fail.

And then we react accordingly.

The other day I was reading Decisive, by Chip and Dan Heath. They talk about making better decisions. One principle to better decisions is to “widen our perspective.” We can do that by considering the opposite of our instincts about a situation. And they say that one way is to “assume positive intent”: “to imagine that the behavior or words of your colleagues are motivated by good intentions, even when their actions seem objectionable at first (p 108).”

Which sounds like Bob Goff and Paul.

I started digging into assuming positive intent, and found St Ignatius. He was talking about a process of spiritual mentoring.

To assure better cooperation between the one who is giving the Exercises and the exercitant, and more beneficial results for both, it is necessary to suppose that every good Christian is more ready to put a good interpretation on another’s statement than to condemn it as false. (Quoted by Jim Manney)

So I wonder. What would conversations between Christians, which is where Paul and Ignatius start, be like if we assumed that each other’s intentions are good?

Because what if people outside church buildings are basing their assessment of what happens inside church buildings on the mean-spirited unintelligent foolish self-serving comments we make about each other to build up our own domain at the expense of … ?