Updated: Mar 1, 2020
There’s been a lot of conflict lately over the decision of many NFL players to kneel or “take a knee” during the pre-game playing of the national anthem. One perspective is that these players disrespect our flag and members of the military through this gesture. The other side quickly blows off those dissenters as being “racist” because they don't acknowledge the underlying issue driving the players to kneel. Both sides state their views with righteous indignation and simply cannot understand how the other side can be so clueless.
This is the latest in a two-plus-year (OK, even longer than that) string of political issues that are giving rise to concerning levels of division in our culture. Who’s right?
I’d offer that neither side is right. Hear me out.
I believe there's a disturbing trend at play here, which is that everyone, on all sides of an issue, is quick to make assumptions about the intentions, beliefs or motives of those on the opposite side. This plays out in just about every hotly debated topic that comes to mind. Think about it. Have you heard any of these?
Those players are so entitled. They don’t respect the men and women who sacrifice everything so they can enjoy such privilege.
If you voted for him, it proves that you’re OK with racism, misogyny and bigotry.
She’s not a dedicated mother because she has a full-time job outside the home.
I didn't get the promotion because of bias.
How often have you seen this play out in your work or home life? Have you found yourself starting sentences with any of these?
What was that supposed to mean?
He obviously said that because…
How much better could the world around us be – and how much happier could be we – if we gave others a little benefit of the doubt? A wise mentor once gave me one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received, and I try to remember to practice it every day:
Assume Positive Intent.
Simple, right? Not so simple to put into practice, though. But I promise that if you try this simple shift in your thinking, it will go a long way not only in your interpersonal relationships, but also in your own mental health.
So how can you put it into practice? The next time you find yourself in a place of interpreting the words or behaviors of someone else, ask yourself these questions:
What are one or two other possibilities that could explain why the other person has said or done what they have?
How would my perspective change if I saw it in one of these different ways?
How could others misinterpret my words or actions when I respond?
And how could I change my response to avoid a misunderstanding?
If we want to have open, positive dialogue about topics on which we don’t agree, we have to do the hard work of re-training our response mechanisms. To take a breath, consider other alternatives, and forge a constructive exchange of ideas.
This takes practice and time. But soon, you’ll see that your happiness with all of your interpersonal relationships will be elevated to a whole new level. Questions? I’m here to help!