3 Steps To Assume The Best of Others*
Assuming the best of others means calling out and bringing out the best that is in others. It means caring enough to really see what is inside them and not your interpretation or your idea of what their life should become.
Remember, you’re not leading them to a future, you’re pulling their future out of them. This is leads to the guidelines I’ve used for spending time helping people: The Three Ls
When I was pastor and full time philosophy student, I did not have a lot of spare time. They were people who wanted my time. There were people who needed my time. And there were people who I wanted to spend time with.
Often, I’d meet a young adult struggling with a life dominating habit, a string of broken relationships, under-employment, you name it. And because of my age, or role as a pastor, my extension of friendship, my love of movies, or clothes, or Belgian beers [looking at you Chimay], or who knows what, they would drop their guard and ask a question… “Why isn’t ____ working in my life?”
Sometimes, instead of asking a question, they would declare what they believed about love, work, gender roles, politics or whatever. I learned to respond with a question of my own, “How’s that working for you?’ Here’s an example,
“It’s okay to sleep with him [or her, or them].” How’s that working for you?
“I don’t need to finish college.” How’s that working for you?
“I don’t believe in ____.” How’s that working for you?
“I use drugs when I want to.” How’s that working for you?
If they thought things were “working” for them in that area, I would congratulate them, tell them I was happy for them and that part of the conversation would be over. When things were not working, I would often ask permission to be personal to suggest there was another way to look at the situation. If they said yes, then and only then I would offer my two-cents.
Rarely did anyone take my advice and immediately apply it. Normally, often actually, they would argue or debate with me… “How can you say that? How can that be true? What about ___ ? Did you know ___?” And I’d reply with something like, “Well, maybe I’m wrong. What the heck do I know?” But even if they claimed to reject my feedback, as long as they challenged me, I knew they were thinking about the words I said. In those cases, I would continue to spend time with them to talk. I would assume the best of them and spend my limited time with my friends.
For some people, even if they were not making any healthy, positive changes with their lives, if they’d ask for my input and completely disregard what I said. If they ignored or denied the observations to the point of unwillingness to argue or discuss it but I recognized some kind of “light” in them, I was able to assume the best of them. After a while, you can see some good in most people. Sure, it’s harder to see in some than others, but it’s usually there.
But since reality is always the best teacher, sooner or later, because of the light that was in them, I knew they’d see the life they were living was not working and they’d start to make healthy decisions. Or at least look for an alternative. Reality will often force open the palm of the one living an unhealthy life and ask them to, “Let go of this life for one that is better.” The light may be dim, it may be covered up with layers of darkness and unhealthy decisions, but remember: everyone has value as a human being. Everyone has a bit of the “light”.
With apologies to Calvin, while humans are deeply, flawed, there remains a significant remnant of the Imago Dei in all of us. Regardless of who we are or what we’ve done. Ever find or come across a damaged paper bill? A $5 or $20 or something of a higher denomination? I have. And no matter how badly damaged the paper bill may be, it’s still worth the same amount of money. People are the same, we all have instrinsic value.
Oh I know, I know: corrupt, vile and monstrous people exist in the world. It seems there is an active malevolent force working behind the scenes, in and through people to further disfigure humanity’s intrinsic elegance. But we don’t have to participate in the further warping of human beings.
Assuming the best of others is the alternative.
The wall of defense against the further debasement of people. Assume the best of others by making the intentional effort to see the light in people we come in contact with.
Occasionally, there’s the person who isn’t learning, who isn’t revealing their inner light,
who is a real handful. I still assume the best of them. Why? How? I just love them. You celebrate what you can. Offer advice when requested. Give time when needed.
Because you love them.
And you love them because you assume the best of them. And because you assume the best for them, you see a better future for them than they can see for themselves. You call out, draw out their good future which is trapped in them. You assume the best even of these folks, because you know everyone was once a baby, a small child, a confused teenager and in need of someone to care for them. And you know you can never know everything these folks have gone through or the weight of pain they carry inside themselves.
*Excerpt from HABITS: Six Steps to the Art of Influence, pgs. 57—66