I don't normally read full articles in Fortune magazine, but we do have them around the house, and this one caught my eye the other day: The Best Advice I Ever Got. They interviewed accomplished people from various fields who provided a description of a piece of advice that influenced them. This one, from the CEO of Pepsico, particularly struck me. To summarize, the advice she received from her father was to "assume positive intent". I like this way of thinking about things. It is so easy to react to situations in a negative manner, assuming that the other person is not understanding you, not understanding the purpose of what you're trying to do, trying to position themselves favorably without regard for others... But if you assume they are trying, that they are after the same goals you are, that they are on the same team...you'll be amazed at how differently you react to those situations, and how it affects your outlook.
While this sounds rather business-oriented, you can apply this to any situation. For example, I get really annoyed when people tailgate me, and I generally assume that most people do it just to be annoying. I am not an unusually slow driver, so what's the point of riding my bumper? But the other day, I had a woman doing this, and when we reached a stop light, she and her son popped out of the car to get to the school bus that was a few cars ahead. She was just trying to catch the bus to get her son to school! If I had assumed positive intent - that she wasn't trying to annoy me, she was just trying to catch the bus - I would've let her pass and definitely wouldn't have let myself get irritated.
So I am going to try to apply this piece of advice in all aspects of life. Everyone is doing the best they can. Assume positive intent.