Assuming Positive Intent

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If you’ve ever read any of my newspaper columns, you probably know that my favorite therapeutic intervention for all types of young people and their families is Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS). Although the Collaborative Problem Solving approach was initially developed to address the out-of-control behaviors of children with Bipolar Disorder, it quickly became evident that many CPS concepts applied to everyone, child and adult alike. Indeed, I am regularly reminded of one of the foundational tenets of the CPS model, and that reminder seems to enrich my interactions in every aspect of life. Simply stated, the concept acknowledges that every child (or person, in a more general sense) wants to do well in life. I go so far as to argue that no one ever wakes up in the morning with the goal of angering everyone they meet and failing at everything they try. Although it may seem like my assertion is extreme, its validity is reinforced in daily communications with a wide variety of people. The ones who seem to have negative goals of ticking everyone off have probably given up on some level. Their positive intentions have become buried under layers of grungy sediment, built up from consistently negative experiences and interactions with people who assume the worst about them. I have found that, if we’re willing to dig deep enough, every person starts out with positive intent. If we are truly invested in improved communication, enhanced problem-solving, and more effective human interactions, we must find the positive intent that lies within others and acknowledge it. I know a young man who is gifted at convincing others (mostly adults in the education system) that he’s a “bad kid.” Even though he does an excellent job of proving otherwise, I guarantee that he started out with positive intentions. I like to picture him on his first day of school many years ago, nervous and excited at the same time. I wonder what messages he started receiving on that first day when he didn’t quite “fit in” with his peers. Maybe he didn’t play, work, or communicate like other kids his age. Perhaps he was extremely hyper or had a non-typical learning style. I wonder how those messages were reinforced over the years by adults who were supposed to use their advanced life experience to help identify and resolve problems. I only know that, after a couple years of school, this particular young man was labelled as “retarded” and “unteachable” in official paperwork. I also know that these terms were used to describe him to his face (and, possibly, in front of his peers). It wasn’t until a few years later that someone discovered this young man had Dyslexia. But, the damage had been done, and to this day, the kid does everything in his power to prove he’s not teachable.
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