Why not assume the best intention from everyone?

Best Intentions Graphic for Blog by Debbie MarkhamMy brother & I went for a casual bicycle ride the other day around Houston, TX.  At a stop light he decided to burst across the street (defying the “no walk” signal) in front of what I THOUGHT was a quickly approaching vehicle. “That was a daring move bro… what made you dart out,” I asked after catching up to him. “Well from my perspective I could make it, the car was moving slow enough.”  Not from mine, I thought, the car had to slow down… but I was intrigued how differently my mechanical-engineering-PhD-brother viewed the very same situation within the same time frame!

This made me think of my dad’s story the other month about his engineering job. He hired 2 independently working engineering companies to gather data and forecast the material strength of the Bay Area Rapid Transit’s (BART) underwater tunnel built 40 years ago, and his job was to analyze both their results to assess the earthquake safety and stability of BART for a possible retrofit job.  Yep, you guessed it… they had dramatically different results…and that’s with math!  I found it incredible to hear my dad talk about how people figure risk differently.  Depending on all the random variables and the mathematical expectation used to base their theories on, and also their learned assumptions, instincts and previous work experience relating to determining and tolerating risk, their decision making and the way they calculate material strength are slightly affected. All mathematical evidence must be empirically derived, and as individuals, all we DO is empirically derive life as its happening through experiences and observances within our own bubble of reality. So it makes sense that even mathematicians and scientists could translate results differently through the use of their limited senses.

Which leads me to my philosophy of the day: Accept everyone’s actions and reactions as their best. That driver could’ve gotten fired up (their best reaction) at my brother’s action (his best judgment), my dad could’ve assumed (his best response) that one or both companies lacked expertise and were unreliable (their best work), and gotten really frustrated. There’s no right or wrong, only subjective life experiences shaping all of our preferences and decision making abilities in the present moment.

I use this philosophy often – with my kids and my parents, with clients and associates, and it works to diffuse my temporary feelings of annoyance.   For me, on a daily basis, I just don’t have enough time to talk through every misunderstood moment to discover it was just the words used (or not used) or a tone heard that caused my discomfort.  If I assume each person acts with their best effort or intention, no matter how aligned their rationale is to my way of life, I don’t get my feathers as ruffled and I get to have my brain available for solving the problems at hand instead of having emotions overtake my mind. It doesn’t mean I keep hanging around people that ignite feelings of angst, but at least I’m feeling less frustration when those instances arise.

Accepting everyone’s actions/reactions as their Best Intention = Less Judgment = Less Annoying Feelings = More Happiness!


  1. Shaun says:

    Very well said. I swear, are you my sister from another mother?! I’ve had the same conversations/thoughts in my head and you always put them so eloquently on “paper”. Also, learned this in relationship counseling a long time ago and it has been so helpful-The Three Assumptions: 1) The intention to stick together and work things out 2) The intention of good will 3) The assumption that my partner can and wants to understand me. It’s all about intentions.

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