One time, when we were on the cusp of an argument, my brother said: “I don’t want us to assume the worst about each other; I want us to assume the best.”
It was years ago, and I still remember it. I was so convicted in that moment. I had prepared myself with a firm defense of why I couldn’t do something he had asked me to do. I was quite sure he was going to be disappointed in me and make me feel like I had let him down.
Yes, he was disappointed, but he wasn’t disappointed in me. He said, “I know you and I know that if you could do it, you would, so I’m not mad.”
His words resonated so strongly with me that I began watching the way I dealt with my conflict with others.
- Was I quick to jump to conclusions?
- Did I allow my thoughts to roam unchecked and allow those thoughts to frustrate me even further with the situation?
- Was I giving my friend the benefit of the doubt?
I think our culture is one that is bent towards hyper-criticism of others. We’ll be darned if we’re going to be taken advantage of and we won’t stand for it. Social media makes it very easy to state our frustrations about everything from the speed of the drive-thru at Chick-fil-a to the poor customer service from our cell phone company to the stupidity of politicians or athletes.
Sadly, I think we’ve transferred shards of that to the way we deal with those who are closest to us.
Let the record show that I’m no Pollyanna. I’m somewhere in the middle between Debbie Downer and her. I’m prone to stick up for the underdog if I think he/she is being attacked, yet I have to keep my critical spirit in check lest it get away from me.
I also think that there’s a difference in burying your head in the sand or being naïve versus assuming the best in someone. And, when it comes to world affairs, I’m still an advocate for being informed.
But when I’m looking at my friendships and other relationships with people who I’ve known and invested my life in, don’t I owe it to them to assume the best before I jump to the worst conclusion?
If those “friends” were out to cause harm to me in any way, then what kind of friends am I surrounding myself with in the first place?
Yet time and time again, when conflict arises, much of it can be pinpointed to our belief that our “dear” friends were intentionally trying to hurt us somehow.
My first dealings with customer service came as a yearbook sponsor. I worked at a low-income school that had a zero dollars budget for a book that contained memories from the year. We were lucky to have a book at all, so I did as much as I could to keep the price at a bare minimum.
Still, I constantly fielded complaints about everything, especially the fact that the book was printed in black and white and not in full-color. I realized through this experience that if people knew all of the factors that I knew, then they wouldn’t be so quick to vilify me for not doing what they thought was best.
I try to remember that when I’m dealing with conflict in my own relationships. I love the people I’m in community with. And it’s because of this I have to choose to trust them and believe that if I knew all of the details and factors of the situation, then I would understand why they made the choice that I’ve perceived as hurtful. Likewise, after years of friendship with me, I would hope that they would know my heart well enough to trust that causing them pain would never be my objective.
Obviously, we’re all human, and even with our best intentions we’ll fail each other. But choosing to believe the best in each other and show each other grace is so much more freeing than choosing to believe that their intentions were not good. I would rather be a person who errs on the side of mercy and grace than the opposite.
It’s not fail proof—this whole choosing to see the good in others—but it’s a good place to start.