Presume the Best

Over my lifetime, more than one person has come along with the message that in the midst of conflict or potential conflict, we should presume the best of the other party’s intention. The fact that more than one person has come along to bring that message to me means, to me, that I have been in dire need of learning that lesson! Some of my life’s earliest experiences drove home the message that I needed to “get things right,” and that spills over into everything if left unchecked. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to get things right (who in their right mind would want to get things wrong?) but perfectionism is a toxic brand of “getting things right,” and I can easily go there. Our current political divisions in this country and the world doesn’t help me, either, presume the best in the other person. I am more inclined to wonder which news broadcast a person listens to before I presume the best of their intentions. 

There is another gift that I have been given, though, which actually helps me a lot in this aim to presume the best of the other’s intention. It is part of our mission at UUCG: curiosity. What I am learning is that the very best way for me to presume the best of another’s intention is to remain curious and to ask genuine questions of the other. Even if it becomes clear that the other person is coming from a place and a set of ideas that I can in no way endorse, remaining curious allows us to access each other’s hearts, and what I know about hearts is that they all have some familiar terrain. Let me into your heart, and I will recognize some things there. If I let you into my heart, you will recognize some things there. Curiosity is a very special kind of generosity that says: I want to know more about you. Please, I will tread lightly: show me your heart, and I will show you my heart. 

~Bob Patrick

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3 Responses to Presume the Best

  1. Peggy A says:

    Your words echo much of what CCL volunteers are trained to do in our lobby meetings with lawmakers in Congress. We always start the meeting telling them something that he/she/they have done recently in their role as a lawmaker for which we can thank them. This sets a positive tone for the meeting, and makes them more willing to listen objectively to our explanation of the proposed legislation we want them to support. We emphasize the parts of the bill that we think they might like the most (as a Republican or Democrat), such as improving our national security by expanding our country’s power grid, if they are a Republican. We also give explanations of how this bill will improve the health, via improved air quality, for all Americans. At the end of our meeting, we always thank them for letting us share our ideas, and ask them to let us know if they need more information from us about this proposed legislation.

  2. Roy Reynolds says:

    Bob, Your meditation hits home for me. What you have voiced here is what I call “Entering Heart Space.” And I imagine this as Move #1 for deepening into presence with another and with the world. Which is likewise the realm of soul space, entered by feeling, noticing, sensing, and imagining.

    Empathy is one example.

    Thank you for articulating this move.
    Gratefully, Roy Reynolds

    • Bob Patrick says:

      It’s good to hear from you, Roy. I am especially delighted at your comment since you are one of those people who brought this message into my life over the years!

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