“Assuming Positive Intent”
While away on sabbatical I had the opportunity to read several quality books, as well as several relaxing, easy reads. One of the quality books I read was Stephen Covey’s, The Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything. Our 2018 Vestry team practices increasing our trust of one another through Covey’s “Trust Action Cards.” After prayer with Scripture and acknowledgements shared since the last month’s Vestry meeting, each Vestry member takes a “Trust” card from the pile of cards going around the room. We, then, individually read what is printed on our “Trust” card for the evening with the intention of practicing that trust principle for the meeting. An example from one of the “Trust” cards would be, “#2 Demonstrate Respect: Genuinely care for others. Show you care. Respect the dignity of every person and every role. Treat everyone with respect, especially those who can’t do anything for you. Show kindness in the little things. Don’t fake caring. Don’t attempt to be ‘efficient’ with people (Speed of Trust Action Cards, www.speedoftrust.com).” Personally, I have found that this “Trust” card practice has helped Vestry work together with an even greater degree of trust, and I hope we continue said practice, or something similar, in the coming new year. It is my belief that Vestry members are given a great opportunity to deepen their walk with Jesus through how we lead the parish together.
One of Covey’s leadership principles is to assume positive intent. Naturally, “assuming positive intent” is a sort of akin to one of Covey’s other principles, “seeking to understand before being understood.” For me as a Christian, “assuming positive intent” and “seeking to understand before being understand” are similar to the second of the two greatest commandments: “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Matthew 22.37-39.”
Loving your neighbor as yourself implies that we love ourselves. When I treat myself the most lovingly I tend to give myself the benefit of the doubt, and I am gentler with myself. Assuming positive intent is one way of sharing love of God for another. When we assume positive intent from another we create a sacred space where loving can more readily take place.
When we assume positive intent we create an atmosphere of trust, of vulnerability, and of community building. I don’t say the words “assume positive intent” when we get new lectors signed up. If a new lector appears nervous to read in front of the congregation, though, I generally say, “We all have your best interest at heart. We love you, and we want to see you succeed. Even if you mess up with the reading, it is ok. We are here for one another.” That sort of statement gets at the essence of assuming positive intent. When we assume positive intent, we aren’t wondering what the person’s agenda or end game is. When we assume positive intent, we aren’t looking for the other to set us up or for “the other shoe to drop.” Simply put, we are working together for the common good.
Today, it can be all too easy to neglect positive intent and to see the world as one big political game. Yes, I know that sounds pretty defeatist, and I do not want to be defeatist. In fact, our life together as the body of Jesus Christ is not meant to be lived with a skeptical or defeatist attitude. Rather, Christians are to live together in hope of God’s manifestation to our community and to the world through our love for one another; it is kind of difficult to live with hope and a defeatist attitude simultaneously. I want to suggest an alternative. Look for positive intent with your fellow parishioners. When asked if you feel called to serve, assume the one asking is doing so because they see you as a great fit for whatever the ministry. I can assure you that I have your very best interest at heart. My “agenda” is to help us love God ever more deeply so that we can become even more effective in our witness of Jesus to the world. I want you to be spiritually fed as you encounter the living Christ through your participation with your Ascension & Holy Trinity sisters and brothers. Assuming positive intent will enhance our Sunday experiences with one another, and it will even enhance our interactions with others outside the corner of Burns and Worthington Ave.