How about not assuming intent (positive or negative) at all until we’ve had a chance to talk more with the person in question and, as was clearly the case with your neighbor, establish a history of interactions that can lead us to some reasonable conclusions about their intent? If we start by assuming intent of any kind, especially with regard to casual interactions or off-hand remarks, that’s going to color our assessment of the situation moving forward. What’s the intent behind jumping too quickly to assumptions about the other person’s intent? Obviously, in some cases, the intent quickly becomes explicit and clear, but in those instances we aren’t really assuming anything because the other individual has made their thinking fairly obvious. However, many (perhaps most) day-to-day human interactions, especially between people who don’t know each other or know each other well, lack that kind of clarity. I don’t see any benefit in starting every new potential relationship with another human being with an assumption about their intent.

US citizen residing in British Columbia, Canada. Degrees include anthropology and environmental studies. Activism, politics, science, nature.

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