We’re just now feeling our regular, joyful familial groove return from our time spent gorging on connection, freedom of mind and space, and the annual quintessential family reunion we call The Rethinking Everything Conference. There are a great many ideas, situations, and conversations on which to reflect and I will continue to analyze and integrate for a great (great!) while.
‘Intent’ has come up several times in the last week in several different ways. During the very first regular session of the conference, Barb Lundgren, Dayna Martin, myself, and Mark Hegener conducted a panel discussion entitled, “Immerse Me in Unschooling.” It was a rousing couple of hours with lots of inquiries, debate, and revelation. During a discussion about a mother feeling overburdened by her child not bringing his dishes to the kitchen after eating, Dayna brought up ‘intent.’ Do we assume positive or negative intent when a child does not live up to an expectation that we hold for whatever reason?
When holding a freedom-based conference for hundreds of families in a fancy, mainstream hotel, obvious issues arise. Hotel staff, unaccustomed to the din of children at play, stiffen, raise eyebrows, and increase the security presence. Some found themselves more relaxed and joyfully aware by the end of the weekend. I imagine the others just took more ibuprofen for their aching heads and feet and were grateful that their children went to school. The difference in these two camps is their assumption of intent. Do they assume children are inherently good and the play is honest and joyful? Or do they assume that children are destructive, malicious, or simply unaware?
At a recent park day, one of the toddlers in our group decided she would be most comfortable playing naked in the sandbox. At almost 100 degrees, the rest of us were thinking she had the right idea. One of the mothers at the park, however, did not. Ten minutes after she inquired as to whom this child belonged and asked if we were aware that she was not wearing clothing, a police officer arrived indicating that the little girl was indecently exposed and (adding his personal bias) ‘nobody else needs to see that.’ Interestingly enough, Texas penal code section 21.08 defines ‘indecent exposure’ as : A person commits an offense if he exposes his anus or any part of his genitals with intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person. Gosh, I wish I’d had my pocket copy of the penal code with me at the park.
The short of it is that we can argue intent all day. There is only one person in any situation that is actually justified in dictating the intent and that’s the subject. We could then make judgments as to whether their stated intent is their actual intent. But one thing is certain: perception is not intent. Perception is based on personal bias and our own subjective history.
Now, I haven’t liked the word ‘assume’ since my 8th grade teacher broke it out on the blackboard. You may have heard this one: “When you assume, you make an ass– out of –u– and –me. And, after reading The Four Agreements, I feel incredibly free never assuming anything again because generally an assumption is something we take as a personal affront without any basis in truth.
But that is when we assume negative intent. There can never be harm when we assume the best for and about people. We maintain our personal integrity and it completely changes how we interact with others such that the energy is always going in a positive direction.
So what I’m about to say is a challenge but it will change your life. Assume positive intent and act accordingly.