Assuming positive intent

I recently listened to an episode of 99% Invisible with Roman Mars in which they discuss the origination of the milk carton as a billboard for missing children. In telling this story, we learn how unsuccessful the effort really was in recovering any missing children, however the folks who started it decades ago were pleased to see the awareness it generated. It began conversations about our own assumptions when passing others. See that child over there who looks a little off? Maybe those adults posing as their parents aren’t really their parents at all. 

When we start from a position where we think everyone is suspect, what are we giving up? In this — perhaps extreme — example, the numbers of children who are not with the correct supervision is incredibly low when compared to the number of safe children. How reasonable is it for us to behave in this way?

Conversely, we could approach our world from a place where we instead assume the right things are happening. Where intent is not to think that person with the baggy jeans is going to rob your store, or that co-worker you are arguing with is sabotaging your operation. Instead, take a step back and ask questions to better understand the situation. You might find that something malicious is intended, I am not suggesting bad things don’t happen. 

But in this “if you see something, say something” world we live in, how often is that the case?