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.