Freeing Ourselves by Assuming the Best in Others

Passover is about freedom. There are so many ways to view freedom, from the political to the personal. As a camp director who works with campers, staff and parents, I have learned over and over that relationships are the key to everything. What do relationships have to do with freedom? I have found that assuming the best about others actually sets me free. Too many times I have wasted and seen others waste emotional energy pondering the motivations behind other people’s actions. Almost always the conclusions we reach are negative and not helpful. We assume the worst intentions in others.

If instead we assume that others have the best intentions, we can set ourselves free: free from feeling bad, free from wasting time worrying about things we don’t control, free to help others from a place of compassion and free to set boundaries to protect ourselves from others mistreating us.

Brene Brown writes in Dare to Lead: “It turns out that we assume the worst about people’s intentions when they’re not respectful of our boundaries. It’s easy to believe that they are trying to disappoint us on purpose.”

For example, a rosh edah (division head) misses a deadline and the evening activity they were supposed to plan is a mess. Assuming the worst in them would mean that they did this because they don’t care, they are lazy or even that they are trying to make me look bad. Assuming the best means that you believe that they wanted to do a good job, but something got in the way. Instead of wasting emotional energy trying to figure out their motives, it is much better to assume the best and approach them with the intent to help. If someone is struggling with their own stuff and you assume the worst in them, you most likely will come off as a jerk when dealing with the issue.

What does setting boundaries have to do with this? According to Brown, setting boundaries means prioritizing your needs and practicing self-care without feeling guilty. If we are taking care of ourselves then we make it easier not to entangle our needs and emotions with the actions of others. What they do is about them, not us.

Also, when we practice self-care without feeling guilty, we are assuming the best in ourselves. We acknowledge that we are doing the best we can and we can stop punishing ourselves for not being perfect. This, too, is freedom. Instead of beating ourselves down, we can spend our energy building ourselves up.

The last couple of years have been a big challenge for everyone. Disease, war and the daily struggle to cope with what life throws at us can be overwhelming. Passover is about freedom. This year let’s focus on the freedom that comes by assuming the best in others and in ourselves. Chag Sameach.