Sometimes coming up with blog post ideas is a chore, and then other days the posts appear and practically write themselves.
Last week a friend of mine posted a thought on Facebook that stopped me mid-scroll. It hit me so hard I read it a second and third time.
This particular portion was what got me:
“…What if instead of ridiculing an oblivious teen for not getting out of the way, we politely said ‘excuse me’ because maybe, just maybe, that oblivious teen is on the autism spectrum and didn’t know he was in the way?
What if, instead, we assumed good intentions, let the little things go, and saved our energy for things worth fighting for?”
While Christine’s larger point was calling us on our tendency to publicly shame people we don’t know, what struck me was the phrase, “What if…we assumed good intentions.”
I wish I could report that my quest to be a Common Grounder has been an unmitigated success. It hasn’t. I continue to struggle. This is tough stuff, you guys. I continue to assume the worst in others. I continue to be divisive when I could be collaborative. I continue to avoid common ground.
Adjusting Expectations to Find Common Ground
But with one Facebook post, Christine summed up the main reason I’m failing.
What if I adjusted my expectations of others and myself? Could I pave a smoother path toward common ground?
Adjusting my expectations of others
I have a confession to make. I tend to make a lot of things about me that aren’t about me. When someone cuts me off in traffic, I act as though they are trying to impede MY commute. The truth is, they aren’t thinking about me. They are focused on their trip.
I also tend to assume my opinions, political, professional, or otherwise, are morally right for everyone because they are morally right for me. Therefore, my thinking goes, when someone has an opinion that is different from mine, that person is morally wrong. I feel a duty to show them the “error” of their thinking.
(I can’t believe I’m admitting this stuff in a blog post.)
These two assumptions assign motives and positions to people that aren’t correct. These assumptions rely on the expectation that those who “oppose” me have shady intentions.
It’s time to reframe my perspective. What if, as Christine suggests, I assume people have good intentions?
Instead of getting frustrated when I get cut off in traffic, what if I assume that the other driver is on his way to an important event. I could choose to see our interaction on the road as an opportunity for me to help him get where he’s going quicker.
Instead of assuming I understand the reason someone has a different opinion than mine, what if instead, I listen — with an open mind — as they explain their reasoning. By surrendering the moral high ground, I’ll be open to trusting that others have good intentions too.
I’d like to think that adjusting my thinking in the little interactions, like traffic, will prepare me to adjust my thinking in the more complicated interactions like differences of opinions.
Adjusting my expectations of myself
Last week, a friend told me we’d have to “agree to disagree.” For a few moments, I was floored. Agree to disagree? I thought, “I’m supposed to let you leave this conversation without coming around to my point of view?” Preposterous.
When I look back at the conversation and get to the root of my thinking, I’m mortified. Why do I feel it is my duty (or right) to change someone’s strongly held opinion?
I believe it’s this kind of hubris that has transformed compromise into a dirty word. Instead of a path toward strength, compromise is slowly becoming something “weak” people resort to. Compromise is a last ditch effort instead of plan A.
So, I’m stepping down as morality police — or making an attempt to, anyway. I’m going to turn in my badge, allow opportunities to “agree to disagree,” and hope that paves the way toward compromise and common ground.
The truth is finding common ground will never be easy. If it were, we’d all be doing it. However, I think adjusting our expectations and assuming that others have good intentions is a step in the right directions.