While I don’t always use these exact words, the thought pattern is overly familiar to me. Here’s what goes on in my head:
Hmmm. I have just observed you do something that seems to me, without any real thought or discernment, to be something I may not like. In fact, I may not like it a lot — although I’m not really certain at this instant. As a result, I will burn considerable brain power in arriving at your motive. Regardless of what motive I will assign to you, my motives are superior. Thus, and possibly therefore, I have no need to take the time to talk to you about why you did (or didn’t) do something. I already know.
I wish that last paragraph hadn’t been so easy for me to write. But as I said, it is overly familiar.
Just yesterday, I was reading sage advice from someone else that greatly shamed people like me who engage in preemptive misunderstanding. I have to tell you, I was convicted by those words. So much so, that, on review of the rest of my day, I ignored that advice at least 3 more times. Who knows what would have happened if I had not heeded that wisdom?
I can’t tell you that you can simply stop assigning motives to the actions of other people. In fact, that function is a natural defense mechanism. For example, when someone rushes up to me in a crowd, I look for clues. Does this person want to hurt me? Or is this yet another adoring member of my fan club? (I have to say that, statistically, it’s not a fan. I can say that statistically because there is no fan club.)
So if assigning motives is something natural and can be, in fact, something good, why do so many conflict resolution professionals and counselors tell us NOT to assign motive? If I could be so bold as to assign a motive to these well-meaning people, I think they are trying to tell us not to act on assigned motives until we have opportunity to talk with the individual involved.
So, for today, after my mind tells me “I know why,” I’ll take the time to say, “Tell me why.”