When you go to art school, sometimes learning how to talk can be harder than the actual coursework. You’re constantly being hit with a thousand different newly-minted politically correct terms that have just been invented, and someone is always waiting to get mad at you for not using them. I have nothing against political correctness, as most of it just falls into the category of good manners. But so many people have built their entire personalities around policing people’s speech and searching for evil in places where it simply doesn’t exist.
Yesterday, I had a wonderfully refreshing experience in a class that could have been incredibly unpleasant. It’s an advanced theatre class that deals with complex issues on topics like race and gender, which could have been open season for people who obsess over woke language. But the professor started the class with one of the most perfect sentences I’ve ever heard.
“None of you have to watch what you say in here, because I’m just going to assume you’re speaking with good intentions, unless you prove to me otherwise.”
It’s that easy. I found myself thinking about how much outrage, celebrity cancellations, and general online anger could have been avoided if everyone did this. There are some bad people in the world, but the vast majority of us do have good intentions. Making that the starting point for every discussion would make the world a much nicer place to live.
It’s safe to say that nobody at my Boston art school has ever had malicious intentions when talking about social justice issues. Everyone is clearly trying to be as compassionate as they can. So why we spend so much time obsessing over gaffes and “micro-aggressions” is beyond me. When people try to start fights and be combative over these things, I can’t help wonder if they actually want the fighting more than their desired result. Human beings want to belong to something, and we want to hurt people who hurt us. These traits aren’t good, but they are natural, and they’re on full display in every social media mob. It’s much easier to do that than it is to assume everyone has good intentions. When you start from there, you can work towards actual progress.
Obviously this has application beyond the incredibly insignificant world of academic theatre classes. I’ve found that when you assume everyone is trying to do the right thing (even if you think they’re failing), life gets a lot better.
Student, blogger, positive assumer