Assigning Positive Intent

flowers in the yard

I believe that learning how to assign and even to assume the positive intent of others is one of the most important things I’ve learned how to do over the past several years.

I first remember hearing about this concept from my father as he taught an adult Sunday School class that I was attending. He explained that, when someone seems to be angry with you, they very well may not be at all. They might be dealing with a difficult personal or family issue or they could even be experiencing chronic pain – nobody, my father explained that Sunday morning, has an easy time being nice to other people when they have chronic back pain.

Well, that made and still makes perfect sense to me. In addition to the point that people always have other things going on in their lives that we can’t possibly know about, another point is that none of us is the center of anyone’s universe except possibly (probably?) our own. The idea that I would do something purposefully to make a friend or family member of mine upset or to offend them utterly baffles me. I don’t know why I would spend any time trying to do such a thing.

And if I wouldn’t spend my time doing something like that, then why would I assume that anyone else would do such a thing to me?

That was enough to convince me and over the years I’ve gotten much better at assigning positive intent to others and not taking personally any differences of opinion or belief.

The assumption of positive intent has made a huge difference in my life and has been very freeing. I’m free to believe that I’m not the center of anyone else’s world and that nobody is messing with me by just living their lives.

One of the most important places to assume positive intent these days, in my opinion, is online, but it’s also one of the more difficult situations to assume positive intent. We are now exposed to so many more of our friends’ and family members’ beliefs and actions than we were before social media came around that it’s bound to be a rough transition. Family members interacting with high school friends and college friends and parenting friends… it can be a mess sometimes.

It can also seem, occasionally, as though people are posting negative things that are directed right at us and at our choices or beliefs. In reality, the people posting them probably just saw something that lined up with their own beliefs and posted it because they liked it – not because they’re thinking about how you do or believe the opposite and they want to send you some sort of cryptic negative message.

I’ve mostly avoided that sort of thinking, especially after spending several years on a gentle parenting board where we are expected to always assume positive intent with our children as well as with other mothers on the board, and am normally very adept at simply scrolling past most things that I find to be potentially offensive or divisive, but I’ve found that I sometimes get very defensive or even offended responses from my friends when I post something that has been helpful to me personally with parenting or living.

It’s even possible that this post will ruffle someone’s feathers somewhere, although I can’t imagine whose and it’s not intended in that way either… it’s just a helpful topic I have on my mind and that I wanted to share with anyone who reads this ❤

So what are some examples of positive intent, as I see it?

Positive intent (as I see it) says that parents who make different decisions than you do are just doing the best they can with their unique situation and the information they have, even if you think you’d never make those decisions yourself. Positive intent says that those parents also have the best interest of their children in mind, even if you vehemently disagree with how they go about showing it.

Positive intent says that people who generalize about specific parties in politics and denigrate those who support them are just frustrated with the state of politics right now (aren’t we all?) and possibly lack the capacity to express their extreme frustration without also casting aspersions on everyone who supports the party they’re frustrated with. Positive intent also says that those aspersions are not about you or me, but rather tells you a bit more about the frustrations and beliefs of the person making them.

Positive intent says that people are trying their hardest and doing their best to live their lives in a difficult and fallen world, even if you look at them and think that they seem like abject failures by your own definition. Nobody is perfect and everyone falls short in one way or another. Some of us struggle more than others do and none of us have walked in anyone else’s shoes, figuratively speaking, so it really does behoove everyone to assign positive intent.

Positive intent says that we treat others the way that we would want to be treated by assuming that there’s a good explanation for behavior that we could easily take personally or poorly.

If I ever appear to be a jerk to someone then I want to know about it and have a chance to make things right. It only makes sense to me to give that chance to anyone who seems to be acting like a jerk to me. Maybe they thought  I was a jerk first or maybe their mom just died or they just found out they have cancer or they simply woke up late and have been scrambling to catch up all day long… you’ll almost certainly never know for sure unless you assume the best and ask them nicely.

Positive intent says that it’s not all about us and that we should strive not to take things personally unless we have asked for clarification and the person clarifies that it is, specifically, about us.

Almost always though, there’s another explanation; one that doesn’t involve cryptic or indirect personal attacks because, really, who has time for that kind of thing?

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Small Houses: Our Story Part One

Small houses have always held an appeal for me. During my childhood, my family seemed to move into larger and larger homes as I got older – we’d get more stuff and need more space to store it all. My husband and I have managed to avoid that so far. We have moved from tiny to large to medium to large and back to small/tiny, then we repeated the pattern once again, staying with various friends and family for a few weeks sometimes between actual spaces of our own. We’ve acquired things and gotten rid of things and try to continually reevaluate what we have and what purpose it serves – this is vital when living in a smaller than average sized space and it’s not something that comes easily or naturally to me at all.

While the average square footage per person in America was 832 in 2009, our own home comes in at 200 square feet per person. That’s including a home office in our third bedroom, which is largely unusable space during the daytime when my husband is working. We sometimes joke that most of his 200 square feet come out of the office space. We also homeschool all our children so, many days, all six of us are home all day long.

On the other hand, this 1200 square foot space is far from the smallest home we have lived in. Our first home, after we got married, was around 300 or 350 square feet, but only two of us and the dog lived there. Over the living room it also had a sleeping loft that wasn’t counted in the square footage. That house was more than big enough! We had a futon couch, a coffee table, a desk, a bookshelf, our bed was up in the loft, and we had a small kitchen table with two chairs that fit just perfectly into our kitchen. The stove was half-sized (and gas!) and we had a clothes closet and clawfoot bathtub in our rather spacious, for the size of the house, bathroom. We had guests over frequently and always made extra food for friends or homeless folks who would stop by for dinner with little or no notice sometimes.

Our little house was located in the middle of downtown San Luis Obispo, CA in a little courtyard with other small cottages as neighbors. We could both easily walk to our jobs and pretty much anywhere else in town or near Cal Poly we wanted to go. Our car didn’t work when we lived there so friends would sometimes give us a ride to Trader Joe’s or the tiny little natural foods co-op we were members of. We could walk to the co-op, and often did, when we needed something small or just a few things. We also lived less than a block away from a large park with a playground, an adult playground (with stationary exercise “equipment”), a giant field, and a community garden. We would walk there in the middle of the night to let our dog run around the field and to exercise on the adult playground. Then we would walk leisurely through the beautiful community garden before heading back to our perfect little house.

Alas, we had only lived there for 7 months when the retirement home that owned our house decided to kick out all their tenants and demolish all the little cottages, including our own, in order to expand their facility. It was a sad day. We could easily and happily have stayed there for much longer and had at least one baby in that space, given the opportunity.

Our next house wasn’t small at all. It was huge! We moved to my in-laws’ 1400 square foot double-wide manufactured home in Washington State after my father-in-law got remarried. Our first baby was born there, but it was odd living in such a large space after our cozy little home. We acquired a great many more material possessions while living there and when we moved into a one-bedroom 700 square foot apartment with our new baby and all that stuff stuff, it looked  just like an episode of hoarders with boxes stacked quite high.

We never really unpacked in that space because we literally couldn’t. There just wasn’t enough room for all our stuff and, with the new baby, I just never got around to decluttering everything. I’d never been taught how to declutter by my parents so the next few years in our next few houses were spent learning on my own, with the help of decluttering books like Sandra Felton’s Messies books and Don Aslett’s Clutter’s Last Stand, how to get rid of things and decide whether something should be kept or not.

Our next place, an 800 square foot studio downstairs duplex, achieved the status of being a home; not just a storage facility with a kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom like our apartment had been. We unpacked our many boxes, decluttered to the best of our abilities, and contributed a ton of things to the local annual Rotary Auction and Rummage Sale. We also acquired more things from the Rotary Rummage Sale, but these were mainly things that we either needed, like a couch, or things that helped us organize the house, like bookshelves for our extremely large collection of books.

We adopted a cat while in the downstairs duplex and lived there until our oldest was around 18 months old and I was 2 months away from having our second child. Then we moved just upstairs into the 1200 square foot duplex above us. It was huge after the apartment and downstairs duplex! We had our second baby there and moved to a 500 square foot house when she was only 5 months old because of heating and cooling issues with the space.

That 550 square foot home was a standalone house, which was absolutely wonderful after the apartment and duplexes. We had an enclosed carport, a covered front porch that was at least 150 square feet, and a detached laundry room that doubled as an office for my husband, which all helped quite a bit with the small space. The yard was lovely and our next door neighbors, whom we shared a driveway with, had chickens, ducks, rabbits, and a large garden that they let us have space in so that we were able to grow some of our own veggies in addition to offering us some of their excess produce. They had apple trees that they shared freely from as well.

We had two children, a dog, and a cat in that space along with a piano and thousands of books. We managed to make food from scratch every single day in the tiny kitchen and even have friends over sometimes. It was quite a nice place, other than how expensive it was and some mold issues, which eventually got to be quite a problem so we seriously began planning to move three thousand miles away to the Georgia/South Carolina border where the cost of living was more reasonable.

At the time of our cross-country move, we had been married for five years and now we’ve been married for ten so I’ll conclude this part of the story now and pick up again soon with the second half 🙂

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