You can only assume positive intent in situations where intent is not clear and you need to infer or assume. Once there is a proven track record of bad acts clearly establishing intent, assuming positive intent amounts to deluding yourself.
If you don't know, then assuming positive intent and looking to situational factors as the source of problems can be surprisingly powerful. But, once you have affirmative evidence of bad faith, then you need to go with that. Assumptions about motive only make sense under circumstances where motive or intent is unclear.
This is where most people make the most mistakes, they assume their own judgement is sound. Hence the article.
>I would never assume positive intent and allow my daughter to be alone with a registered sex offender
I don't know, prehaps that's true in the case where one doesn't know what the sex offender has done (i.e what crime got them onto that list), but it's not sufficient in general.
Although most people on the list are there for good reasons, there are not-good reasons too, such as urinating in a public park at night, having a lewd picture of your 17 year old girlfriend/boyfriend on your phone, and in some countries possessing/writing certain pornographic comics or stories.
So I think it is too dismissive, similar to how it is also dimissive to say the same thing about an ex-convict.
While I agree that most parents use crappy rubrics for deciding whom to entrust their kids with, I am not really comfortable with arguing in favor of trying to do some kind of justice for some edge case adult over a parent looking out for the welfare of their own child. The parent has a duty to their child. They do not have a similar duty to some guy who took a leak in the park, yet their dream job is babysitting. Depriving public urinators of some right to become a babysitter seems a rather small thing in the name of protecting our children from possible child rape.
The place to fight this battle for justice is with the system that designates public urinators et al as sex offenders, not with parents trying to decide whom to leave their kids with.
The lack assumed negative intent is a positive in my book
Most of the time people don't intentionally slight you, they just don't care enough to actively avoid it.
Where does bullying fall in your classification?
It is a rare person that really wants to do best and they are typically not rewarded for it. Especially when they don't get rewarded.
This kind of work irks me. No offense to the author, this is a widespread trend, not a single example.
You write a whole blog-post on a topic and not mention Hanlon's razor. It is inexcusable that you didn't know about it. It was your job to do "literature survey" or some google search, or an intellectual discussion with a handful of people, (ideally all three of them, and more) before you blurt out a whole essay on a topic. And then in the essay you create an image of yourself originally coming up with such a brilliant idea.
This is just a piece of writing (and maybe I am a bit harsh but I'm just trying to point to a trend). We're on HN. This is way worse when it comes to coding/github projects:
You create some kind of code, put it on github, create a blog-post in some shiny flat/material design, grey font, maybe medium or nautil.us posting. And put that posting on tech forums, HN, linkedin, reddit, whatever.
And you fail to mention other projects preceding you on this same exact topic, much less discuss the pros and cons of your approach vs previous approach(es). Who knows you might've ended up finding out your own code was a complete reinventing of the wheel and completely redundant (maybe you're too afraid to find that out). (As an example, look at my recent comment about 'building your own linux' vs LFS ).
Creating something new and original is hard work. Part of that hard work is searching for existing efforts, related work, doing a literature survey, and whether or not they were successful, and how they compare/contrast with what you did or are going to do, and so on. Short of that, you're just contributing to the noise, the bloat, and the information overload of your content consumers.
What's worse. Not putting in the full effort works for these people too. More often than not, such people are looking for a quick karma-whoring to meet their immediate objective. A github coder is looking to put something quick on their resume, to land a job interview. It's the job of the interviewer or potential employer to hold such people accountable, but I doubt they do.
I don't know. This irks me to no extent. I'm big on minimalism. I spend a lot of my efforts making sure I don't say something that's already said ('say' = a piece or writing, or a piece of code). I don't like to contribute to information bloat. Maybe it's a self-defeating habit (i.e., if you don't say anything most of time, people think you have no talent, you're a nobody).
edit: It also reminds of NIH (not-invented-here) syndrome, something Google is known for. To be clear, it's worse than when it's done by noobs (e.g., for quick karma-whoring to land a job interview, at least they're desperate). When you're in a position of "status", you definitely can do better. It also reminds of the website LessWrong . Those self-entitled wannabes have created a whole universe of philosophical/logical terminology for themselves without consulting the outside world and trying to find out whether "their ideas" originated elsewhere or not.
edit 2: In case anyone wondering, yes I am advocating the opposite of 'publish or perish'. And 'publish or perish' is part of the reason we have so much information bloat (on the internet, in the libraries, everywhere). And that's part of the reason why I say my approach is self-defeating.
That's a pretty high bar to impose on a guy's personal blog site. I mean, he also has a poetry section. From clicking around on his blog it also appears he has a PhD from MIT, so he's certainly no stranger to research, if that were his project in this post.
> And put that posting on tech forums, HN, linkedin, reddit, whatever.
It doesn't look like that happened here. The blog was written by a guy named Rick Manelius, and posted to HN a guy named by Dan Moore. While it's possible there's some collusion going on here, I say we "assume positive intent"; that is, assume Dan found Rick's blog entry insightful and posted it to HN for the rest of us to consider.
1) Since this is going to happen regardless of how you feel about it, arguing that human beings "should" do something differently just leads to dissatisfaction on your part. I simply roll "cites prior work" and "compares to similar approaches" into my set of criteria for judging the utility of a work or idea.
2) There is inherent value for learners in revisiting familiar (to us) concepts on their own terms. If they get excited about learning something or producing something that has been around for decades, great. They don't diminish the other works by producing theirs. And sometimes there are kernels of something new.
That said, I do require every engineer who wants to introduce some new piece of technology to do a "literature survey" as a means of teaching them how to think critically about problems.
The bulk of my comment is about the general trend, as well as the coding community.
Applying Hanlon's Razor, I don't see any malice in this comment at all. It's just a sharp comment with a logically valid point that is a little off base socially.
Behavior like this is a feature of analytic/software/STEMy people, not a bug!
What really seems to grind your gears is the curation. The fact that this "inexcusable" blog post made it to the HN front page. Blaming the author for not living up to your (extremely ambitious) standards seem silly to me.
You'll gain a better understanding of the ideas, show others how to do the same (if you publish your efforts) and perhaps create new ideas through accidental new combinations or the concerted effort to integrate multiple existing ideas in an unusual way.
I think the issue isn't the recreation/repackaging but the omission of an honest discussion of how the new approach differs or what is done differently.
Focussing on the good intentions instead of the incompetence may be beneficial for your own mental health.
This is why in high stakes environments this "assume positive intent" falls apart. Only where the costs don't really matter (and for a lot of wealthy americans, a couple hundred bucks lost on a bad contractor is low stakes) can you really afford to be so lax.
It would not have been my first instinct to put professional tradesmen in some sort of low trust category, but that has been my experience, and I don't think I'm alone.
Are they being malicious? No, I don't think so. Just lazy and/or careless - but the aftermath is largely the same.
In my experience dealing with tradesmen, it's very rare to get a full price up front.
> There are a few community agreements that participants often bring up that we don’t tend to use or bring with us. Two of the most common ones are “assume best intentions” and “default to trust.” The reason we don’t use these is because when someone is unable to do this (say they’re feeling untrusting of someone, or unsafe), having a community agreement telling them to do so isn’t going to change anything. These agreements aren’t always realistic, especially when we take into consideration that when people have been harmed by sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, they/we build up necessary tools to care for and protect themselves/ourselves. Agreements we offer instead that capture the spirit of these are “we can’t be articulate all the time,” “be generous with each other,” or “this is a space for learning.”
"People can trust me because they don't have to."
He was talking in the context of Linux kernel, but I think this applies universally. If you are in a relationship where the other side has more power, you cannot trust them. However, if you have equal (or greater) power, and you can walk away, you can trust them.
And again, people intuitively know this, I think, so if you want somebody to trust you, then you should give them enough power over yourself, expose yourself a bit.
Actually, I wonder if a major part of the decline of trust in the U.S. today is because the price of litigation has spiraled outside of the means of most Americans. So if the cable company or Internet company or bank or debt collector screws you, there's little you can do about it, and so people assume that the system must be corrupt.
It makes me wonder if we could bring back more "trust in the system" by putting a cap on the price of litigation, or using "public prosecutors" the same way we use "public defenders".
My understanding of the system is that poor folks only get "public defenders" when they are arrested and can't afford a lawyer, but apart from the government bringing cases against private individuals (eg, "the people vs larry flint"), we don't see poor private individuals bringing cases against the government using "public prosecutors" when they can't afford an attorney. Instead, we see things like the EFF, the NAACP, and the ACLU, who all have to raise large sums of money to pay for private (as far as I'm aware) attorneys to bring cases to court.
It seems that the bias in the system is like a grain of wood that runs from rich to poor, where poor is against the grain.
So yeah, I do assume that the system is a corrupt duck, because it looks, walks and talks like a corrupt duck.
Could an alternative be to evenly split the resources for both sides? So if a court case is brought between a poor person and a rich person (or poor company/rich company), the two total the amount they'll spend on lawyers and then get exactly 50% each to use for legal costs.
So if you have to say, sue the cable company, the latter in turn has to pay for a large percentage of your legal fees regardless of if they win or lose.
The court system might change a lot if both sides were guaranteed equally good legal teams...
A "technically you won" judgment where the winner's costs were extremely large could offend justice or proportionality enough that there is an atypical costs order favouring the winner (e.g. the winner gets at most only a small amount of its costs paid by the loser).
Costs tend to become the elephant in the room during litigation, since they increase in dramatic steps over the various phases. This tends to pressure parties into compromising their positions and settle on costs out-of-court on some privately agreed basis, rather than risk an adverse costs order if the opposing party is slightly successful. If, for example, a defendant makes a counter-claim that offsets (say) half of the claim, or simply an offer to settle for half of the claim, and the claimant insists on going to a full trial, the claimant risks having to pay both sides' costs if the defendant is successful in the offsetting counter-claim or if the defendant is only found liable for half the claim.
Cost orders often state that costs are "to be assessed if not agreed"; if the party who will be paid costs under the order has an unreasonable accounting of its costs, there is an assessment procedure wherein the court can strike out or reduce some of the costed items. Often where a very expensive lawyer is doing a lot of work compared to the price of the lawyer (and the amount of the work) being done by the party paying the costs, the courts will tend to reduce the amount of costs payable, on proportionality grounds.
Finally, prevailing parties do not fully recover the full amount they spent on the litigation in many circumstances.
The English Rule tends to contain costs, although it does not always do so. Moreover, it has the perverse effect that meritorious cases that would establish new law rarely make it all the way through trial and appeal, because when a party feels its position is less than fully solid and is seeing costs mount on both sides, it will generally try very hard to settle. A party that rejects these attempts to settle is also at risks with respect to orders on costs, so will generally accept. As a result, there is no final judgment, and the law remains unchanged no matter what the parties agree in their settlement; these cases aren't even generally reported. Unfortunately the legislature is not very quick to tidy up areas of private law where this is most common (the English law of real property is the most extreme case of this) and many cases that would help resolve oddities in the law simply never go far enough before the courts before settlement, so the oddities remain.
Additionally, under the English rule, withdrawing from a case because one does not have the money or energy to continue it to its conclusion generally has costs consequences for the withdrawing party: they pay the costs of the remaining party more or less as if they had lost. An extremely deep-pocketed party facing a party with shaky finances (even if the latter has a decent case) is often tempted to rack up significant costs and use the threat of an adverse costs order to "force" a withdrawal from the case early on. So the English rule is not really a cure-all, unless the smaller party is able to convince a judge to make an order that goes to the heart of proportionality, and that is extremely unlikely in the early phases of litigation. (On the other hand, many judges are getting fed up with the amount of costs racked up by parties during the disclosure phase, and there is recent case law that is likely to rein in this sort of abusive behaviour by deep-pocketed parties, even when they face-off against other deep-pocketed parties.)
Generally, giving discretion to courts to award parties costs (or not) based on principles like justice, proportionality, and (un)professional behaviour during the litigation, is seen as a decent step towards resolving some of the access-to-justice problems that strongly advantage the most well-funded parties at the costs of everyone else. Judges are often sensitive to public policy around access-to-justice and fairness of the justice system as a whole, but some systems tie their hands in these matters more than others.
Lastly, public funding (and some forms of quasi-public or private speculative funding) of parties who cannot afford litigation with a much larger party is fully in the realm of politics. Changes in government often lead to substantial changes in the resources available to such parties, and there is very little a party can do if it cannot afford to carry its claim or its defence to conclusion in a litigation. Conversely, making it very easy for small parties to bring non-meritorious claims against large parties just because of the apparent size-difference in the parties is also unfair: nobody should ever be able to succeed in pursuing an unjust claim. Preventing governments from tilting the playing field in various directions requires political will which is rarely there, however.
Finally, there's a diversity of opinions on how to deal with the costs of litigation (or even if there is a problem that needs to be dealt with at all) within the legal profession itself. With consensus being fleeting and rare, the lack of political will for governments and legislatures to make changes in how costs are dealt with is somewhat understandable. These differences of opinion are not all motivated by professional self-interest, either. Perverse outcomes (that are bad for the reputation of the system of justice as a whole) are a risk from any sweeping change to the current system. :-(
I think the problem is on the other side. Defending yourself is too expensive. Instead of doing quick and efficient business people invoke massive amounts of overhead creating liability reducing paper trail for everything rather than just doing honest business and lawyering up if they have the bad luck of being sued.
It's like paying $100/mo for insurance because you can't afford to pay a $400 6mo premium.
It doesn't help that most people don't have and understand about how tort law works.
And I think yes, larger hierarchical (actually, authoritarian would be a better word - you can have hierarchy with democracy too) organizations are inefficient, so in a sense, they have already fallen apart.
I think trust implies choice in some sense, and if you don't have a choice, then trust is meaningless.
Trust is an interface. You need to give others just enough trust to do what they need to do, and that differs depending on their role in your life.
Simple example: Starbucks is a corporate giant with vastly more power than me. Still, I can easily get my coffee from many other places.
It's the same thing, though. In any power unequal relationship the power to walk away breaks it.
Examples: In a marriage, if you can leave, then your partner cannot abuse you. At work, if you can strike without worry of being fired (and jobless), then you can negotiate better salary and work conditions. In geopolitics, Ukraine cannot cease to be Russia's neighbor and reinstate itself on other hemisphere of the planet. It a dictatorship, you cannot make the leaders to walk away from you, like you can in democracy.
There's also an aphorism with a similar but different sentiment, Hanlon's Razor , that states: "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity."
That doesn't mean you should be a sucker. But assuming the best of people has made me happier.
But I also think that evidence comes far before being screwed. Watch how people talk about others. Watch how people treat others. Especially people they don't like. And always remember that you might be one of those people they don't like someday.
Focus on building relationships with people who treat people they disagree with or dislike well. Trust those people. Plus, encourage that culture -- no matter how much power you have you should always treat others with respect and fairness.
Just a pet peeve of mine: If p% of the population has a certain trait it means that of 100 people, p will have the certain trait on average -- and not at least p of 100 will have the trait.
(Most) humans have very well developed subconscious human attitude detectors. We respond to body language, tone, vocal tension, etc., and we often do it without realizing it.
As an actor in a situation, if you can keep your thoughts focused on the positive outcomes - especially when a lot is unknown and your chance of being wrong is not obviously very low - you will express positive signals. Other people are likely to pick up on these and (perhaps subconsciously) respond in kind.
The reverse is very true, and much easier to observe. If you pay attention to other people having conversations, it's fascinating to see how one's initial approach is often met in kind by the other - whether positive/positive, or negative/negative.
Salespeople learn this, perhaps mechanically, very early. Approach a potential client with an expectation of success and an expectation that the client will want and need what is offered. The prospect picks up on this and responds with more interest, or at least a bit more consideration. Likewise, approaching expecting rejection is more likely to get rejection.
I don't have sources for these "facts", but they are echoed in many books I've read and in my human interactions I've witnessed or been involved in.
Lastly, it's just nicer for yourself if you believe people are good and of good intent. You carry less stress, you smile more (and frown less), and you are less likely to die of heart disease. This is clinically proven :).
 : https://m.signalvnoise.com/the-power-of-positive-intent-5d5d...
And this IMO kills it in an increasing amount of work places. I might be seeing it more pessimistic as it is, but the increased people turnover, team fluctuation, miscommunication and related factors produce a massive drop in trust between co-workers.
> Or we can start from a place of positive intent right from the beginning and keep it there until they violate that trust.
Additionally, I would search for a way to tell people I work with about this principle. Some people begin to distrust you if they think you are kinda odd
The problem is that people aren't able to accurately judge when they are inside a low-trust environment when using one of their many digital devices.
People are watching their neighbors return from the mysterious Facebook fog spouting fake-news bullshit like it's gospel. Then they themselves blithely enter the fog with the reasoning that they would never get taken in by something so crude and obvious.
If you've ever watched a shell game in a big city that fallacy will be familiar. You watch a frustrated victim keep losing and notice a subtle thing the scammer is doing to cheat. You then place your own bet and choose the shell where the cheating scammer inconspicuously tried to move the ball.
Then you lose, too, because you didn't consider the possibility that the scammer had yet another trick prepared just for people like you who think you're smart enough to figure out the game.
Is it yellow journalism? Right propaganda, left propaganda? Articles from the perspective of the skeptics, from the alt-right, Neo-Nazi's, communists, cultural Marxists or from radical feminists? Something else?
On the positive side, we try to put con artists in jail, so that moves the odds a bit in your favor. But con artists and sociopaths continually have to find new people to exploit as they are discovered by and/or burn out the old ones. And the skilled ones can gain disproportionate control of resources, further increasing the odds you'll be dealing with them. As an example, 99.7% of my unfiltered mail is spam, not 4%.
I think you should almost always act as if you're assuming positive intent, because that's how you build good relationships. But in practice, you should always be keeping an eye out for signs you're dealing with one of the many exploiters of the world.
or elect them into high offices
You should certainly assume positive intent (or one of the many variations discussed here) when you first encounter a problem or conflict of views. On the other hand, you shouldn't cling to this idea in the face of accumulating evidence to the contrary. Some people are in fact assholes and exploit the kindness, patience, and general good nature of others in pursuit of their own selfish ends.
The sad fact is that dealing with assholes is tiring at best, stressful in general, and can be scary at worst. If the cost of accommodation seems less than the cost of confrontation, making excuses and allowances for bad behavior can become a habit. Unfortunately, so too will the bad behavior under those circumstances.
A lack of trust will also restrict your options. You'll spend more time making sure all contracts are watertight, or have to pass on opportunities if the legal system (which is the fallback option after 'trust') isn't capable to compensate.
It's also somewhat wrong on the facts: The idea of completely rational and selfish behaviour is called 'homo economicus', and it's among the worst of all the bad assumptions economics has made. Because as it turns out, it's almost impossible to find people acting in such a way outside of mental institutions.
The only rational and selfish test subjects are usually monkeys. Humans are willing to forgo all sorts of rewards for either altruistic or moral reasons.
The question is whether, in a team situation, one assumes that others are looking out for the shared interests as a group. If no shared interests exist, then the team has a much bigger problem.
Second, I completely understand that I could have made this article even better. I could have done more research into the existing literature, which would have resulted in the Wikipedia entries and company culture documents that were specified. When I take another pass at this article, I'll add many of these at the end for further reading. However, I will say that I in no way am claiming this to be a unique thought. In fact, I'm very clear that this was an experience I had during my career that turned out to be quite transformative. Had it been said in another way, I may not have heard it. It was this exact phrasing that both struck a chord with me and it has resonated with others (as it has done here as well). To that end, even if I could have refined this further and made it 10-20% better, it achieved its end goal.
I honestly wish I had time to review and respond to each and every one of your comments, and I will probably get to it here and there as time permits. I've made some life choices where I prioritize time with my wife and daughter after work hours, which is why I need to sneak in my writing when and where I can! That said, this is encouraging, and I thank you all once again.
I somehow prefer "good faith", even though it's meaning is harder to parse when you first hear it. The 'faith' does a better job of hinting at the emotional component of the concept.
It is SO easy to misread things, which is one of many reasons that AGF is so important a principle.
Fighting or fleeing without verification is typically going to end badly.
The other thing is that 'positive intent' does not necessarily appear as 'positive intent' to everyone. Today, out walking my sister's dog I/the dog scared a Chinese tourist. There was not any malice in the dog's walnut-sized brain, just a perception problem from one of the many (maybe 25) people I met en-route.
There are also those with some narcissism due to childhood trauma and negative feedback loops. These people don't have friends and don't think to do people good turns. Unless they meet a fellow narcissist that sees the world like they do, they can only expect negative intent from people. Of course the world of sane people only see negative intent in those far up the narcissism scale. It may take them a few seconds, weeks or years to realise but eventually the 'utterly selfish' conclusion is realised.
I spent a lot of time in retail, on helpdesks and other customer facing jobs where it is commonly expected that there will be customers wanting to vent, rant and insult you. This never happened to me, it really has been happy customers all the way, admittedly with a few people let-down with promises not kept.
What surprises me is how rare my 'never treated like scum' experience has been. People with more charm and better people skills than myself have had horrible times with customers and kind of expect it. So if your mindset is to consider customers as 'idiots' then 'idiots' you will get. If you start from the 'assume positive intent' and are happy to live in a world of different abilities where you might have to teach someone 'how to use a mouse' or 'type their own name' then all is good and there is no need to be irate with anyone or for anyone to be irate with you.
1. you can exert more control over yourself
2. it will have more direct positive impact
I think we've all had this feeling - this reassurance - from time to time. It feels great and it's important to internalize. However, with today's economy existing against the backdrop of the seemingly unstable sociopolitical dynamics of the USA, it's a little hard to know when it's truly OK to operate with this as a key assumption.
> 1) It’s 100% reasonable to have a high degree of skepticism within a low-trust environment. For example, I would never assume positive intent and allow my daughter to be alone with a registered sex offender just because the person claimed they had changed. I would also never trust an alcoholic with a house full of liquor.
This is arguably an exception large enough to swallow the rule in some very important and timely circumstances.
The state is as likely to be violent as a registered sex offender, and as likely to pillage as a drunk at a liquor cabinet. In our current situation in the USA, with the state taking on a character of such ubiquity, aren't we always in a "low-trust environment?"
On the other hand, I do always assume (and in fact, almost always find) good intentions from the humans around me. But we are faced with a real need to come together and address what increasingly seems like bad intent on the part of the state, even though its actors are all humans.
How then do we move forward?
1) your assumption biases further thinking and perception.
2) you will be less careful (optimism bias)
3) if you're wrong there might be a big price to pay. (Including the ultimate such as life.)
I say "for worse" because as with all oversimplified models (aka all models), there's always the risk that someone will take the results out of context and claim "But it's a fact! Science says so!". ...As they did with the original "tit-for-tat" IPD strategy, and as happens routinely with various "evolutionary justification for X" arguments.
Way to often discussion ends up in "well you said" instead of actually trying to understand what people are saying.
But Hanlon's Razor already take care of the articles subject.
I've worked for years in both France and the US, and I feel like it's been a useful simplification that the French start not trusting you until they do, whereas Americans will start trusting you until they don't.
I've heard it described that the French have the latin attitude (shared with Spain and Italy, not with Germany or England), and it's a fun enough explanation that I'm holding on to it :)
It would be interesting to know whether that ratio changes as power increases. Maybe execs are closer to 1/10th because sociopaths would both be attracted to control and their lack of scruples is a great advantage.
Of course, if a lot of people in power are sociopaths, than that's a huge drag on any social system assuming positive intent.
Hmm, this article suggests that neither one is a technical DSM term _and_ that it's the reverse of what you say, psychopath is "worse".
Stipulated: undue suspicion is as much a failure mode as insufficient suspicion. Both hazards might be implicated in any particular situation. That's why it's a mistake to make hard and fast rules. A sense of proportion is valuable.
AGF is a rule in the sense that if you don't know someone's bad faith, you must act as thought they have good faith as a rule for maintaining healthy discourse. It does not mean you assume good faith to the point of allowing yourself to be vulnerable or agree to anything based on that good-faith assumption.
In short: Assume Good Faith in how you communicate, but verify good faith with certainty if your decisions rely on it.
> Surprising you didn't talk about trusting your gut.
>> I will admit that I struggle with finding a balance between brevity and comprehensiveness. You're suggestion is absolutely right in that I could have put some additional guidance on using common sense and/or trusting one's guts/instincts when something doesn't feel right and it makes more sense to be more cautious.
This seems to be a disturbing trend recently. Inflating people's sense that their biases are not only valuable inputs but actually accurate. This flies in the face of all quantitative studies that show exactly the opposite.
I think the most egregious thing I've seen recently along these lines was a Sam Harris podcast about "the gift of fear"