The stories we tell ourselves

I read a blog post once (the blog sadly doesn’t exist anymore – I checked) by the mother of a kid who kept licking his own hands.

He licked them constantly for weeks and weeks. He wasn’t quite old enough to explain it yet, so she spent those weeks thinking the poor kid wasn’t right in the head. She panicked, she bribed him to stop, she punished him when he did it, the whole thing. Still the licking continued.

Then one day, with no warning, he stopped. No more licking. Months passed and she thought she was in the clear. She thanked her lucky stars and figured it was a weird phase the kid grew out of. But after about six months of that, he started back up.

The mom of course lost her crap, but not for long. By now the kid was older, and he was able to explain it: his dang hands were dry.

His mom realized that the licking coincided with the winter months. He stopped when the weather warmed up and started back up when it got cold. Cold weather makes for dry hands, and dry hands need moisture. So she got her pitiful dry-handed kid some lotion, and everyone was happy.

It’s a great example of the stories we tell ourselves. People pull something sketchy and try as we might, we suck at assuming best intent. We think “what could the best intent even be?” and the best we can come up with is something only slightly better than downright evil. So we feel justified in being grumpy, because “hey, I assumed best intent!”

When I find myself taking for granted that someone’s best intent still isn’t that good, I try to remind myself about that poor mom. She spent months stewing on it and never once thought “oh, maybe his hands are dry.” Maybe, like that mom, I’m missing the obvious.

Luckily, adults (unlike young kids) can explain their reasoning. But you have to freaking ask. Enough of this “I am assuming best intent, but the best possible intent is still bad” nonsense. When someone does something shady, ask them why. Maybe their hands were dry.

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