Your first response has a profound effect on the outcome of every social interaction. The assumptions you hold about others’ intentions play a special role in this. If you assume positive intention, you ensure the best possible future.
Many years ago I was held up at gunpoint. It precipitated a terrible phase in my life. Every time I saw a group of young men walking along the road, I saw criminals. Regardless of their background or intent, my brain went into protection mode. I saw danger in the eyes of perfectly innocent young men. That’s the power of our primitive, protective brain. Although an extreme example, this negative, defensive attitude is prevalent throughout our lives.
Our brain has evolved to protect us. Deep within our primitive, reptilian brain, we have instinctive reflexes that assume negative intent. A dangerous encounter, or even just an encounter we perceive to be dangerous, invokes this powerful defense. Sadly, the brain doesn’t wait for major danger to switch this on. If we feel ignored, overlooked, disrespected, slighted or any of a hundred different minor offenses, the primitive brain kicks in. The outcomes of these negative assumptions are toxic and cause unhappiness.
On the other hand, when we assume positive intent, we invoke the constructive cognitive and emotional centers in our complex brain. Not only do we engender favorable dispositions in those around us, but we infuse our brain with hormones that elevate our mood and drive happiness.
The good news is that we have complete, voluntary control over our cognitive brains. We are therefore able to practice and perfect assumptions of positive intent. Although not necessarily easy, it’s clearly wise to strive to assume positive intent in the words and actions of family, friends and colleagues.