One of the most valuable pieces of advice I received a few years was to “assume the best intentions in others.” Brené Brown echoed this sentiment in her book, Rising Strong:
“[My husband said to me], “All I know is that my life is better when I assume that people are doing their best. It keeps me out of judgment and lets me focus on what is, and not what should or could be.” His answer felt like truth to me. Not an easy truth, but truth.”
Interesting enough, this is also how St. Ignatius starts off his famous work, The Spiritual Exercises:
“It should be presupposed that every good Christian ought to be more eager to put a good interpretation on a neighbor’s statement than to condemn it. Further, if one cannot interpret it favorably, one should ask how the other means it. If that meaning is wrong, one should correct the person with love.”
I agree with Brené that this is not an easy truth, but it is truth. And it is a truth that seems to be echoed across the breadth of Scripture. “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to become angry.” “Do not judge, lest you be judged.” “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
There are certainly times to put up boundaries, have hard conversations, or perhaps even withdraw from relationships, but I think this principle of assuming the best (and assuming that people are trying their best) is a good first buffer in many relationships.
If you find yourself having a hard time assuming the best in others, or a particular person, it might be worth investigating. A few years ago, I realized I was really getting triggered by a person because their mannerisms and persona were really similar to a family member of mine that had caused a lot of pain in my past. Being able to consciously separate this person from my family member helped me see them in a different light.
Brené also encourages us to use that assumption on ourselves. “...sometimes when we are beating ourselves up, we need to stop and say to that harassing voice inside, "Man, I'm doing the very best I can right now."
This idea reminds me of the Radiohead song Optimistic. “If you try the best you can, if you try the best you can, the best you can is good enough.” Check that out here.