Repost: Presume the Best

A repost from November 14, 2024

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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4 Responses to Repost: Presume the Best

  1. katrina P yurko says:

    As we move into the near future, the curiosity thread will have to become more durable. If we can maintain the curiosity and hold back on judgement we might get a better perspective on the alternate view points but, for me, there seems to be a point that I simply withdraw from heated issues or I speak out. It is difficult to take on the added burden of good behavior, civil discourse and either sympathy or empathy if the politics separate us and my view is diametrically opposed to the other’s viewpoint. My mind takes over the reins of my heart and my curiosity fizzles into disbelief. I need more practice in diplomacy and compromise.

    • Bob Patrick says:

      Katrina, your observation about the role of curiosity here is so powerful, and is speaking to me as a key concern. You acknowledge that in the face of heated issues you want to either withdraw or speak out. I get that. That can be me in a heartbeat. Withdrawing and speaking out (as in speaking against) are both definitive stances. If we call on curiosity, though, it strikes me as an energy that evokes a neutrality, a possibility for seeing and hearing more than I currently do. Thank you for this response. Gives me much to ponder.

  2. Barbara Stahnke says:

    Something I am working on:
    1.) don’t assume bad intent – hard one and sometimes I have to take a breath, a day or a week. I try to let the other person know but sometimes I feel hurt and harmed and don’t remember to let them know where I am.
    2.) Ask Questions and listen – make sure you are hearing them correctly. Sometimes it is hard for the words of understanding to even leave my lips. If it is actively harming me – HELL NO. If it is harming someone I care about – maybe I can be the difference by representing.
    3.) Stay calm – make space. Actively creating space is a challenge – because you need agreement. It may not be possible when harm is experienced.
    4.) Make my argument. If after I have heard them and they recognize that I am understanding them; I expect them to reciprocate. This does not always happen and creates more harm. (Then I go beyond curiosity to compassion if it is within my ability.)
    This is my current practice…It is definitely in process.

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