Assume Right Intention

Over the last few days, I’ve been asked a couple questions that are completely different, but, as I reflected on them, I realized that I handled in mostly the same way.

The first question was this:  “Have you ever written about being defensive? I find myself reacting defensively in my personal relationships and have no clue why I go “there” so fast… “Snapping” back if you will :/ something I would like to and need to work through but don’t know where to start?!”

The second question was:  Can you talk about how you’ve dealt with parenting advice from non-adoption folks?

When I was thinking about these answers, I realized that my first reaction with both situations is one based on a principle I use for being Latino at a time and in a place where there weren’t/aren’t many Latinos.  Now, of course, there are caveats where I throw this principle out the door.  But I thought I’d introduce the principle today.  Then in posts tomorrow and Thursday, I’ll cover how I use the principle in my everyday life where I feel I am being faced with judgment (and the caveats I exercise there) and how I use the principle in my parenting life (with caveats there as well).  For now, let’s start with a pretty common story in my life:

Recently, at a deli I periodically visit, I was ordering my soup and salad when the man checking me out asked, “Are you mixed with something?”

Coming of age as a Latina in the South in the 1980s and 1990s, this is a question with which I am pretty familiar.

“Excuse me,” I asked, to be sure I heard right.

“Are you mixed,” he asked again, making change of my ten.

“I am Puerto Rican,” I answered.  And his eyes got big, clearly conveying he thought my Puerto Ricanness was cool.  I took my lemonade, found a booth, and started grading the stack of papers I had carried inside with me, not thinking twice about his question.

“Doesn’t that piss you off,” Friends have asked over the years as they see me field questions about my ethnicity, citizenship, and background.

And, to be honest, it very rarely has.  The approach I have taken in answering the myriad of inquiries is to assume the questioner has the right intention, even if they are using language I wouldn’t use.  Most people really just want to better understand things; they want a clearer picture of their world or even the world.

Yes, sometimes the questions are intrusive.  Sometimes they are awkward, but the best thing I can do every single time is help that person understand the point of view I come to the world with in hopes that it helps him understand someone else’s world better.  So when I get the vibe that they just really want to know, they just really want to understand, they are just figuring things out and the question is coming from curiosity and not judgment, I answer it, as best I can, in the hopes of adding insight.  Usually, my answering piles on the questions, “what do I call people Latino or Hispanic?”   “why don’t you look Mexican?” “Do you need a green card?”  “What is this Dream Act and how is it fair?”  And, again, I answer them to the best of my ability.  As long as the vibe I am getting is right intention, I am in.

But, sometimes, I get a vibe that the question isn’t coming from right intention.  What do I do when I just know that the person I am talking to is trying to find a way to confront me about a larger issue, their own agenda, whatever?  In that situation, I have found the perfect response for me– which requires me to not be belittling or condescending but also requires me to create a boundary and give a mild lesson in teaching people how to treat me– is asking the person to reflect on his or her own question, where he/ she is going with it, and why.  So, faced with a loaded question, I don’t answer with my answer.  I answer with a question for the asker.

“Why do you ask?”

If there is right intention behind the question that I’ve been asked, it becomes clear that the person was just looking for language and maybe misfired with his or her words, does have an earnest interest in knowing my answer.  But, if there is wrong intention, my “why” question always makes that clear for both parties- me and the questioner- and wraps things up before having to go anywhere in that conversation.

What kind of questions are you mostly commonly faced with in your daily life?  How do you handle them?

*Image Source: Finding Happy 


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2 responses to “Assume Right Intention”

  1. Michelle McGrath

    I love this post Rosie. I think sometimes we can take offence too easily just because we use language differently. As you so rightly point out, 99% of the time people are just curious and trying to understand. It can just sometimes be a ‘blurting out loud’ of their thought process and not intending to be offensive. If we assume that most of the time people have good intentions and respond with that in mind, we can often defuse situations that could otherwise be inflamed unnecessarily… I enjoyed the way you have voiced this subject xxx

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