When I Need to Assume the Best About People

Last week, I received an email which had my stress level rising before I’d even read it – the subject title alone got me going. I was pretty sure I knew exactly what the email was about, and unfortunately, reading it confirmed my suspicions. I was also fairly confident I knew why the email had been sent, and was having a difficult time keeping my emotions from rising to the occasion.

As I began to mentally form a response, two wise voices started saying things in my head.

The first voice was Ben’s, because he always says, “You can never be too gracious.”

The second voice was Brene Brown, who says:

quoteI had to think these things over for a little while. The ungracious, defensive part of me felt the email was critical, but how could I interpret it in the best way possible? I decided to take it as someone’s well-meaning intention to show care and concern, rather than criticism, even though it was hard for me to actually appreciate their input.

I wrote the most gracious response I could come up with, and then deleted the email so I wouldn’t be tempted to go back to it.

Remember how we make up stories in our heads? It can be easy to take a comment or email the wrong way, and make up all kinds of reasons as to why someone would say or do something annoying or even hurtful. But more and more, I’m seeing how I need to make generous assumptions of other people – when they question my choices, or when I’m mentally questioning theirs! Can I assume everyone is trying their best? That doesn’t mean it’s THE best, or even THEIR best, but could I at least say that in their situation, with their current resources and abilities, they are trying their best?

I remember a friend once saying, “Nobody sets out to make really bad decisions on purpose.” We all have our reasons, our weaknesses, and our moments. I’m trying my hardest, but I fall short, and I need a lot of grace. So does everybody else.

Now, I am completely aware of the fact that sometimes, it does NOT look like people are trying their best. It was hard to make generous assumptions this morning when I went to check on my girls’ bedroom after I asked them to clean it up, and it was still a bit of a disaster. Was it their best? Probably not.

And I’ll never forget the day when my high school gym teacher made some assumptions about my performance on the basketball court. He stopped the game, and came storming over to me with whistle blowing, arms waving, and voice yelling, completely humiliating me in front of the whole class.

He assumed I didn’t care about doing my best, but what he didn’t understand was that I cared too much – I was so worried about making a fool of myself, it was self-protection to not try, because when I was purposely not trying, no one could see how bad I still was if I actually tried.

When I think back to that painful memory, it makes me wonder if people (even children who are asked to clean up their rooms) are held back in some way from doing their best. When Kaylia goes into an overwhelmingly messy room, she shuts down. She uses a variety of tactics to avoid cleaning it up, because her brain just can’t take it in. If I hand her one item at a time, she has no problems taking that item and returning it to the right place. I’m trying to teach her how to do this on her own – don’t look at the pile, just grab one item, figure out where it goes, and keep repeating until it’s all done. But that’s really hard for her. She’s held back from her best.

So let’s say we’re all trying our best, or we have issues holding us back from our best – I’d say either one calls for grace and generous assumptions.

I want to learn to expect the best from people. And when they can’t give it, I want the sensitivity to realize we are all held back with old hurts and emotional baggage, but usually, we’re all trying really hard.

What’s the most generous assumption I can make?

3 Things I’m Learning About Getting Along With People

For the next week or so, I’ll be posting some of my favorite posts from the archives. I’m speaking at a ladies retreat the first weekend of March, and want to focus on preparing for the sessions I’ll be teaching.

I’ve re-posted readers’ favorites before, but those are not necessarily my personal favorites – the ones that came from the deepest part of me, and seemed to bring some kind of healing and truth to my life as I wrote them. I hope you enjoy them, the second time around!

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stubbornsource

Anytime you live with people, issues will come up that must be dealt with.

Or not.

I suppose you could just avoid people, ignore the issues, and keep going, but that doesn’t usually seem to work out so well long term. It can seem like the more appealing option sometimes, because dealing with issues is HARD. It takes a lot of courage, and a willingness to go through some pain and discomfort. And yet every time I’ve had enough courage to take the plunge, it has been completely worth it.

Sometimes, “dealing with it” has meant working things out with other people.

Other times, “dealing with it” means working things out…in me. (That’s far more uncomfortable!)

Here are three things I’m trying to think about when I am frustrated with somebody:

1) Ask the question, “Why would a completely sane, reasonable person do something like this?”

Ben took a conflict management class for his Masters program this last year, and this was one of the questions he was taught to ask.

When someone makes a choice to do something which seems completely unreasonable, annoying, or foolish to me, asking this question produces the same answer every time: They do it because they don’t know.

They don’t know how I feel, they don’t know all the facts, they don’t realize that it’s difficult for other people.

And that’s okay! Since when does everybody know everything?

Since never.

And when I realize this, I start to think about the situation from the other person’s point of view. I start to see how things might look from their perspective, which is always going to be different from my perspective.

“Not knowing” is so much easier to take than “being a jerk”.

2) Assume that everyone is trying their very best.

Why is it so easy to assume that people are being lazy or careless or rude, and if they would just try a little harder, everything would be fine?

Who says they are not trying their very best?

Maybe they have some heavy burden to carry that you don’t know about, maybe they’re going through a really tough time, and for whatever reason, this is their best.

When you think about it that way, so much annoyance disappears, and it’s possible to give somebody the benefit of the doubt.

3) That person is God’s favorite.

Jon Acuff wrote an incredible post about how every single person is God’s favorite. And when someone is annoying me, and I think, “__(fill in the blank)__ is God’s favorite.” It is very difficult to stay mad and think evil thoughts if you truly think about that one for a second.

The same God who loves me loves them.

He made me, He made them.

I pray for God to get me through a tough time, and they pray to the same God.

Who am I to think that I’m better, that I know better, that my choices are better, that I deserve to be more blessed by God?

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If problems with people are cut off during the thought process, they stay a lot smaller.

And now you know exactly what I’m trying to think when I’m in a difficult situation. I repeat those three thoughts to myself over and over.

Sometimes.

I still have a lot of work to do on this one!

What’s your secret for getting along with difficult people?