Generous thinking assumes the best about people

Generous thinking and my specialist consultant

Recently, I consulted a specialist to see one of my hospitalized patients. I was hoping to get her recommendation the same day I consulted her. Two days later, I hadn’t gotten it and I need to come up with a plan for my patient.

As I talked with my colleagues, some of them said it was unacceptable for her to do that. It was not being professional, etc.

One area of my life that I’m working on is being intentional about being generous in my thinking of others. It doesn’t come naturally to me. My natural tendency is to think the worst. But I know that it’s absolutely not kind to others to default towards thinking the worst in any given situation. So, I’ve made some significant progress in being generous in my thinking.

Generous thinking assumes the best of people and their motives. When something appears to be wrong in a relationship, a generous thinker thinks there must be some good reason why the other party is acting inappropriately.

Because I didn’t hear from my consultant for two days, I sent her a generous text.

“Good morning Dr. Smith.
Thank you for helping us see that patient. I appreciate the fact that you responded to my text message immediately. Can you please give me your recommendations about the patient so that I can know how to form a disposition for the patient? I see that your note from two days ago is not yet completed. I know you are probably very busy. Appreciate all your help. Thank you!”

Generous thinking is smart

My generous thinking was, “She must be very busy”. We, humans, are creatures of reason. We have to explain to ourselves discrepancies in expectations. It’s not normal for a person not to seek to give themselves a reason for something that is not going as expected. The key is choosing a generous reason, a reason that assumes the best about people. And this approach is not naive. In human relationships, it’s actually usually the correct answer. In normal circumstances, when someone appears to be doing something wrong, you often don’t have the information necessary to know for sure why. If you guessed a generous reason for the cause, you will be right in an overwhelming percentage of the times. It’s actually very rare to find a decent human being who sets out to do wrong. If you have the tendency to think the worst in these kinds of situations, you are actually going to be wrong most of the time. I have no statistics on this, but I would guess you would be wrong over 95% of the time, if not more. So I think being charitable or generous in our thinking of others actually is both smart and good for us and our relationships.

Back to Dr. Smith. One minute after I sent her my generous thinking text, she wrote back. “I apologize. I was waiting for the abdominal ultrasound to make my recommendations. My note will be in the chart shortly.”

Can you imagine? Even though it had been two days without her note being in the chart, she had a good reason. The radiology department at our hospital just didn’t get around to doing the ultrasound we had ordered, which she saw and was waiting for the results to make her recommendations. I didn’t know that was why she hadn’t gotten her note into the chart!

What would have happened if I hadn’t been generous in my thinking and had angrily blamed her for not being professional and putting her note in the chart? I would have been wrong. She had some reason. It would have hurt our relationship. Now, you could argue whether she may have communicated that to me earlier or written her note and then mention that she was waiting for the Ultrasound to make the final recommendations. Either way, generous thinking usually makes the best of a situation. It prevents you from putting your own foot in your own mouth when you are wrong.

Generous thinking and my land dispute with my neighbor

For almost a year now, my wife and I have been working with two relatives in Cameroon to settle a conflict between us and one of our neighbors whom we have never met. We were the first buy land there and have land documents that show that we were given a 5 m road to the right. Knowing where the road was, we dug our well to the left inside our own plot of land.

The story I got was that the wife of this pastor came and cut the lock that was on our personal well and stole water from it to build her house on our road, making it impossible for us to be able to drive a car into our plot. I thought that was the craziest thing that could have happened. This person “steals” my water and uses it to build on my land and is rude to my representatives and won’t listen. I hate having a conflict with a neighbor. And I wanted to do everything to avoid lawsuits. Cameroon is a fairly corrupt country. In most cases, my experience has been that you don’t get justice because you deserve it. You get it because you pay the most for it. Many things were going through my mind. I have been very blessed and I probably have more financial resources and connections than my neighbor who is a pastor. Even though I am legally right, I didn’t think it was morally right for me to throw my weight over him and suffocate him with legal suits and lawyers. We would both come out of it as losers. We would both lose significant amounts of money and lose a relationship. After almost a year of trying to settle the matter by sending my representatives to negotiate with him, I decided to get his number and call him myself.

I had to be generous in my thinking of him and not allow what my representatives have said to me about him and his wife to cloud my judgment. Basically, they made me think of him as a greedy, ungrateful, and unreasonable bully who unfortunately is a pastor.

“Hello, Rev. Peter”, that’s how he is called. “I’m Kenneth Acha, your neighbor in Bamenda. I have sent many of my representatives to talk with you. I’ve been thinking that maybe I could call you so we could talk as brothers and settle our differences. I understand you are a pastor.”

“Yes, I’m a pastor. I am very happy to get to talk with you, doctor.”, he entered the conversation.

“Wonderful! I too used to be a missionary and am ordained pastor myself even though I practice medicine now. I think as brothers who are God’s children, we should settle things amicably.”

“I agree, doctor, It will be wonderful for us to talk and settle our differences.”

I had started the conversation thinking generously of him, not thinking of him as the “bad” person I had been made to see him.

As I talked with him, I found that he really had a reasonable point. I was right that part of the place he built his house on had been sold to me as the road to my plot. However, the government land surveyors and authorities had come later when he was buying his own plot to recommend that the road should be moved to the left side, not kept on the right so that it won’t only serve me but serve a couple of other neighbors above me who had bought land after me as well. There was already a 2 m dirt road on the left and he was willing to give up another 2 to 2.5 m of his land on the left side to help create a road that will lead up to my house. My concerns that such a road could pass over my well were allayed in that the road will pass near it but not over it and since it wasn’t a busy road, the well will save as we could build a wall around it to protect it.

After 20 minutes of a generous thinking conversation with this pastor, he wasn’t the savage I was made to believe. He was a reasonable man who didn’t want conflict himself just like I didn’t want conflict. After talking with him, I quickly called and told my representatives to change their approach to dealing with him and do what he was saying. I apologized to him after he told me that one of my representatives was quite rude to him. And that’s why the discussions had stalled. I wasn’t aware of that.

Generous thinking assumes the best about people’s motives.
Generous thinking is love. Love covers over a multitude of sins.
Generous thinking will Strengthen Your Relationships.
Generous thinking says do not judge so that you would not be judged.
Generous thinking treats others the way you would love to be treated.

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