The presumption of good will is one of the core, foundational tenets of Women Writing for a Change (along with the confidentiality of the circle and attentive, open presence). The phrase can bear multiple interpretations, but one we share is “believing that every participant is trying to be helpful and aims to lift up the best in one another. We presume we each bring our best possible self to the circle.“
A fellow writer and I were musing the other day on what deeper meanings this principle might hold. I find that when you really think about almost any phrase, it reveals hidden significance.
Turning to my longtime favorite dictionary, The American Heritage Dictionary, I found the following definitions of “good will.”
1. An attitude of kindness or friendliness; benevolence.
2. Cheerful acquiescence or willingness.
3. A good relationship, as of a business with its customers or a nation with other nations.
While these definitions begin to define the profound role good will plays in our organization, none really arrives at the transcendent power of our dynamic definition of it. Yes, it involves an attitude of kindness and friendliness, cheerfulness even, but it does NOT speak of acquiescence; being true to one’s truth and needs is equally fundamental to our processes.
I would say that the third definition comes closest, in defining good will as at heart invoking relationship. Our presumption of good will is transactional (“communication involving two or more people that affects all those involved; personal interaction”), the active, “paying forward” of a precious gift that is returned in kind, that sets a positive and trusting tone for interactions and relationships, the sharing and communication on which we thrive and grow in community. By thinking and expecting the best of you, I also think and expect the best of myself, my intentions, my efforts, and these hopeful expectations guide our encounter.
Presumption, on the other hand, sometimes gets a bad rap. American Heritage definitions run the gamut from:
- To take for granted as being true in the absence of proof to the contrary: “I presume you’re tired after the long ride” (Edith Wharton) and 2. To constitute reasonable evidence for assuming; appear to prove: A signed hotel bill presumes occupancy of a room.
to a more negative spin in:
- To venture without authority or permission; dare: He presumed to invite himself to dinner and 2. To act presumptuously or take unwarranted advantage of something: Don’t presume on their hospitality.
Personally, I like the way our presumption of good will turns the negative on its head, and, instead of acting negatively without authority, permission, or good boundary management, our presumption of good will can break down boundaries, actively creating a whole, healing dynamic that our world offers far too little of.
These are dark days for many among us, where communication and civility seem to have vanished from our national conversations, and too often from our personal interactions and conversations. At WWfaC we aim to live our principles out into the world, demonstrating what transformative power a creatively dynamic presumption of good will on the part of ourselves and others can have in a wounded world.
Mary Peckham for the Poplar Grove Muse