Why Do We Have Low Expectations of Others?

Over the weekend, it struck me that a good deal of the current political discourse (in the United States, at least) is driven by the belief that if “other” people are left to their own devices, they will do “bad” things. Certainly there is precedent for this; history is full of examples of small groups that have used power to oppress, suppress, or otherwise subjugate others. The interesting element for me, is that inherently I think most of us believe that we are better than that… no matter which side of issues we fall on.

So, it brings us to a point where we have multiple people on multiple sides of an issue each believing that they are the ones that would be benevolent, while everyone else would be malevolent. This seems intellectually dishonest to me. It’s not even an argument about being better equipped to solve a particular problem… It’s about intentions. I think the argument reduces to many of us truly believing that WE have good intentions, while other people do not. Why is this the case? Certainly if we were able to see inside the hearts of others, it might make things easier… but we can’t.

In my experience, one of the only things that has consistently shown that it can overcome this type of mistrust is familiarity. The more familiar we are with a person, the easier it is for us to believe that although their actions may be disagreeable to us, their intentions are good… and I think THAT is what we are gradually losing in society today. We are losing familiarity with those who think about things in a different way.

I think that a way out of our current situation is to simply spend (a lot of) time with people we don’t agree with… not to convince them that we are right and they are wrong, but to create the space and time to convince ourselves that their intentions are good… and frankly to give them the time to see that our intentions are good too.

It may be true that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions,” but it’s also true that even before it’s paved, the roadbed is built on a foundation of misunderstanding. That is what I think we should address.

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