Peace in our time: Assumption of goodwill
I was just handling a complaint about a comment by one of our members. The complaint itself was well-intentioned and protective of a new member, which I enormously appreciate. But when I looked at the offending comment, I couldn't for the life of me see anything but positive support for a new member who posted some music!
It made me think of this thing I was taught as a kid which seems to me like the silver bullet for peaceful relationships, online or off - but particularly online.
It's just this: if in doubt, assume goodwill.
We're social creatures and for the most part, just want to get along and work together. Of course there are exceptions, but I'd say it's generally the case. Those few times here when I see a forum thread flare up and go south, often at the start it’s a simple misunderstanding which gets someone's reptile brain fired up.
The thing about communication in human language, and especially, especially text, is that it’s really imprecise – and when it’s informal and conversational like on a forum or social media, even more so. We might use shorthand that perhaps only our own inner circle understand, or make quips that are tad dry for the readership, or just clumsily construct a sentence.
As a participant in any relationship – anything from two forum members or strangers on social media interacting to two people in a committed relationship – assuming goodwill does two big things for us: Firstly, it generally leaves us with the most accurate interpretation, because most people mean well, and that has all kinds of positive follow-on effects, including sidestepping being offended. Secondly, even before the other party opens their mouth/new post window, it gives us a more robust feeling of connection and optimism, which is pretty good for well-being generally.
Works for me, anyway.