A very long time ago, my Traveling Partner said something to me which I found very peculiar. He suggested I “be less negative”. It struck me as peculiar because I didn’t define myself in those terms, and perceived myself as “being” quite positive. (I wasn’t. At all.) He pointed to the frequent use of negative phrasing in my speech, and sarcasm in my humor (which, by the way, I used heavily – but am fairly tone-deaf to, myself). I could not argue his point, and I really tried. I found myself having to agree that I was indeed fairly negative. Negative phrasing, negative outlook on life, awash in unsupported certainty, argumentative, and admittedly, on occasion (too many occasions) deeply in despair… yep. Negative. Negativity. Just all the nope to life’s questions.

It’s been a long weird path to here. This place in life where I find myself now is very different. “Being a positive person” isn’t something easily faked, or forced, and repeating wholesome affirmations in the mirror isn’t going to do it, either. It’s more subtle than that. Making that change from negative to positive requires some adjustments in implicit memory, implicit biases, and habitual behaviors, and takes practice. I found that it began most easily with accepting that I wasn’t positive in the first place, which was exceedingly difficult, initially.

By the beginning of this year, I was already in a very different place, and would have said that I am a fairly positive person. Kind. Compassionate. Polite. Helpful. …And still there was a tiny core of rot at the heart of all that, with the potential to color my thinking heavily, and not in any particularly helpful ways. A coworker, in the office, in conversation about work-related matters, calmly noted one way by way of feedback “you’re not assuming positive intent”.

I had come a long way toward becoming a positive person, but she was correct; I had not yet come far enough to allow myself to understand others as being similarly positive, similarly well-intended, similarly worthy and sufficient, each of us having our own experience. I still tended to assume the other human beings populating my experience may be acting on ill-intent. Her observation clung to me, and polluted my consciousness for days. Over weeks it actually began on change my thinking, as I considered it in the context of real life interactions, in the moment. Β This, too, has been an interesting journey.

Assume positive intent.

Seriously. I’m not saying that there are no hazards in life, or that there are no “bad people” out there, but how many folks are actually scary dangerous killers with murder in their hearts? How many of those do you actually know, or may run into, ever? So… all those other people, the not scary dangerous killers with murder in their hearts people? Yeah, those other people who are neither you, nor a danger to you – what value is there in assuming they wish you harm, or may do you harm through ineptitude? And your loved ones? Surely they mean you literally and entirely no harm? (If any other thing is true about their state of mind, maybe choose your loves differently?) When we approach other human beings holding onto a state of consciousness that suggests they “may be up to no good” or that they constitute some as-yet-unidentified threat to us, our defenses go up, and we are not our own authentic selves. Sometimes we even behave or use language that can seem to provoke the very circumstances we seek to avoid. We send mixed messages, and our non-verbal communication doesn’t agree with our verbal communication. It’s all very confusing, and I noticed something wonderful when I began to live life differently by assuming positive intent; my social anxiety diminished.

Assume positive intent.

Seems simple enough (is). Just stop feeding the internal narrative that details how some other person means me harm, right? That and more. It’s a subtle thing. A colleague took a really really long break? Instead of being annoyed by that, assuming positive intent opens the door for concern – are they okay? Is there a reason they needed a long break? Is it an opportunity to be supportive, or to connect? That was the sort of thing I started with. I moved on to things like … that driver ahead of me slammed on their breaks suddenly – are they just a giant jerk who drives badly? Assuming positive intent reminds me to consider their circumstances from their perspective. Perhaps something startled them, or they had a foot cramp, or maybe I was following very closely behind them and their discomfort with that situation resulted in choosing to break suddenly to send a message (however dangerous and in poor judgment that seems, it is also simply a bit of communication, right)?

Assume positive intent.

I just kept at it. Looking for the situation in which my assumptions of anything besides positive intent were more useful and appropriate than if I would assume positive intent. More and more often, I found myself fully embracing that assumption of positive intent. Funny thing; my relationships improved. All of them. Work relationships. Romantic relationships. Friendships. I’m still thoroughly human. I still make mistakes. I still hurt people’s feelings without realizing it, and make assumptions that are in error. It’s a journey, and there is no map. πŸ™‚ Assuming positive intent does seem to make most experiences, particularly shared experiences, so much more pleasant, generally. I have come to no harm through an assumption of positive intent. So… I think I’ll keep doing that. Assuming positive intent, I mean. πŸ™‚

Hey… haven’t I written about this before? Yep. It’s still working. πŸ˜€ This one? This is a practice that could change the world…

Shall we begin again? πŸ™‚