I told you about my Labrador, Zorro: A big black guy. He is 10 or so, but seems to believe (and behave as if) he is still a puppy. He poops more than I feed him. Everything is his favorite: Eating. Sleeping. Pooping. Playing. Birds. Cats. Snakes. Sticking his head under water. His collection of toys. E-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.
This dog is so docile, I've seen a three year old dig a bone out of his mouth while he was chewing on it. Bones are Zorro's favorite. He looked a bit confused for a second or so and then began to enthusiastically lick the toddler's face, because toddlers are his favorite. After washing a considerable amount of dog spit off the three year old, I tried to explain that she should not do that because dogs may bite when you interfere with their eating.
Of course labs don't bite. Ever.
But Carl's dog does. Bite the hand that feeds him, I mean.
(You met Carl a while ago in the post "The tong bearer".)
After a nice, long braai Carl went home and played with his dogs. When I say "play" I mean "tease". When I say "after a braai" I mean his wife told him to stop drinking and get in the car. Now.
His two Cocker Spaniels are beautiful dogs. They love everybody - bouncing all over the place whenever someone comes for a visit. Long fluffy ears with big, round brown eyes. Wikipedia describes them as "extremely loyal and affectionate".
Evidently Carl never read the rest of the Wikipedia article where they talk about how Cockers can be aggressive - even suffer from "rage syndrome" and "attacks suddenly and savagely".
He played (teased) until one of the two Spaniels bit his hand. Not a bite as in "Stop that you are irritating me", but a bite as in "I'm going to rip these fingers and thumb right off and eat it it like human sushi" kind of bite. No fun at all. Carl's lovely wife had to rescue him from Brandy (no pun intended), now known as Cujo.
The tong bearer eventually had to go to hospital for an antibiotic drip.
When I first heard the story, I thought: "Was Carl drinking Brandy that night? Did he bite the dog back?".
Fortunately he did neither. The dog was not hurt - even though it almost ate the had that feeds it.
And this incident made me think about judging intent. Carl did not react blindly to the attack: he did not assume malicious intent...
(By the way, kids at home: Remember - Brandy can bite.)
Always assume positive intent
That is perhaps the most important piece of advice anyone can offer you. It means that instead of immediately and automatically thinking that the person (or dog) has malicious intent, one assumes that the person (or dog) did not act out of a desire to harm you, but rather that the person (or dog) has his/hers/it's own set of problems, desires, point of view, anger management issues and sharp teeth.
Us humans are basically egotistical. We tend to think the world is how we perceive it to be. It is a perfectly sane perspective of course:
Your genes belong to a long line of ancestors who did NOT jump in front of the hungry dinosaur to save the day. Your million or so grand parents were guys and babes that looked after themselves and their offspring first. Guys that pushed other people in the way of the dinosaur. They were egotistical - that's how their genes survived.
The problem with this "Darwinian incentive" is firstly that there are no more dinosaurs, but secondly that our egotistical point of view invariably makes us believe that things are personal. From our point of view we are the world. Everyone acts and re-acts to us.
Not so I'm afraid.
None of us are that important.
The guy who cut you off in the fast lane was not doing it because he did not like you. He did not see you, or he was lost in thought, or he is just a bad driver. It was not personal.
The check-out clerk you thought was rude to you was worried actually about her sick child, or being retrenched, or was suffering from a headache. It had nothing to do with you. It was not personal.
When your husband forgot your birthday, it was because he was stupid enough not to put it in his diary - not because he does not love you (enough). It was not personal - and he's going to suffer for it anyway.
When your child forgot to thank you for making dinner it was because he was dreaming about a girl at school - not because he does not appreciate what you do. It had nothing to do with you. It was not personal.
The client screaming at you on the phone has other big problems. He does not know you. It's not about you.
The supplier giving you bad service is understaffed and overworked. They don't know you. It's not about you.
We are genetically predisposed to think all these things are about us. Because our point of view is egotistical we automatically assume malicious intent - it must be about us - personal - we think.
By realizing that it is incredibly dumb to think that everything revolves around us, we should rather assume positive intent: The action the other person took was not necessarily intended as malicious toward us.
Taking a second or two to try test your assumption of positive intent, you give yourself the chance to avoid many, many mistakes in your relationships - personal and business.
Give the other guy the benefit of the doubt. It is not about you. It's not personal.