Assume the Best

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For decades, one of my mantra’s has been “Assume the Best.” But seeing the best in others isn’t natural for most of us. We typ­ically project others’ actions through our own filters. We want others to believe the best about our motives, while we tend to believe the worst about theirs.

Our brains naturally create a narrative about the behavior of others. When something bad happens—someone cuts us off in traffic, a friend stops reaching out, a coworker takes credit for our work—we instantly assume negative things about the other person. We assume we know his motivation, and we often ascribe ill intent with no real facts. Even though we’ve created this story in our minds, it quickly becomes real to us. And then we feel angry or hurt.

This happens at a subconscious level even in everyday interactions—and it happens in a flash:

  • You see someone on Instagram who looks better than you in a swimsuit. You assume she had plastic surgery, or he takes illegal bodybuilding supplements.

  • Someone posts a picture of his new house. I bet his parents gave them the money, you think. He doesn’t have to work hard for his money like I do.

  • A friend expresses some views that are much different than your own. I bet he’s not even a Christian, you may think.

We make stuff up when we are missing information. And for most of us, the story we create has a negative bent. I suggest this: Start making up good stories. Choose to assume the best. Pick a mental narrative that minimizes your irritation and increases your compassion.

This isn’t about denying reality or living in ignorance of the world around you. It is merely assuming the people around you have the best intentions. It is choosing to bestow the ben­efit of the doubt on others—exactly the same you want from them. When it is someone with whom you disagree, you must intentionally decide to believe the best about that person. 

You might be thinking, “If I always assume the best, I’ll constantly be experiencing pain.” I know what you mean. People will disappoint you. People will fail you. You assume your friend isn’t abusing alcohol again, and then you find out she is. You assume your spouse is faithful, and then you find out he isn’t. You assume your pastor is living what he preaches, and then you find out it’s all been a lie.

There is a tendency to put up walls, to protect your heart, to not trust too much so you don’t get hurt so badly. Someone hurts you deeply through their failure or hypocrisy, and you say, “Never again will I let myself be so vulnerable. Never again will I take someone at their word.”

            I get it. And I’ve had those thoughts. So I have to make a conscious choice. I choose trust over suspicion. I choose assuming the best over judgment and criticism. I choose living open and free with people even though it might lead to disappointment.

            I’m not suggesting you should open yourself back up to someone who has burned bridges, been abusive, or lost your trust. That requires a ton of context and counsel. Rather, I’m suggesting we don’t take the failures of others, and project our mistrust on the next person, assuming they will also fail us.

Today you will have a choice: Assume the best in someone. Or assume the worst. Which will it be?

Tim StevensComment