Why people assume the best of each other in a well-designed community for a long time…
The honeymoon period
When you first fall in love with someone, it is almost impossible for that person to disappoint you. Whatever she or he does in the initial few months, you will always see the good intent, you will always see the purity of heart, you will always be willing to see your partner’s side of the story. And your partner will likely be equally non-judgmental about your actions. The honeymoon period of a new relationship.
I have noticed something similar in well-designed communities: when people first meet each other in a trusted setting, people tend to assume good intentions in each other. And: that willingness to see the best version of each other lasts a long time!
I have observed many interactions in communities where people keep assuming positive intent in each other for years. And usually that only changes, once people start working together. Then, after a while, the romantic picture is slowly broken down and replaced with a more realistic one.
The beauty that comes with a community honeymoon
It is beautiful that people are willing to show up with a more open heart, open mind and maybe open will than in other parts of life. That is the magic of communities. The group becomes a safe space where a shared set of values represent an aspirational way of being. A community becomes the opportunity for us to live up to higher standards than we would otherwise.
This translates into friendships with people who wouldn’t have met otherwise, into people excitedly calling up fellow members of the community when they visit their city. I see their positive intentions in the way people write email introductions, connecting their newly-made friends to other people. Even though they don’t know each other that well or for that long, the language in the email is so kind and supportive.
But there is a flip side to this. I believe that this bias towards the positive leaves people for longer in halfway space, a space not as shallow as the cold superficiality of networking, but also not as deep as the bonds of true trusted human relationships. This space in-between is a comfortable place, I know you a bit, I can just look at the positive side of things and it’s easy to avoid conflicts.
But in this approach, we’re setting us up for eventual disappointment. Because under the surface, we all have our dark sides. We are all immensely complex beings. That’s what it means to be human. We have different communication styles, different personal insecurities we are working through, different approaches towards work, different definitions of success, different levels of reliability, different upbringings. Just because we are both part of the same community does not mean at all that we’ll automatically be the same on all these other levels as well.
Nor should we expect that.
The opportunity = honeymoon + vulnerability
I see a huge opportunity for communities: the willingness to see the best in each other during an initial honeymoon phase is the perfect moment to introduce vulnerability. What if we get to show our fragile, complicated, beautiful and often broken sides to a well intentioned and caring audience?
This strengthens the honeymoon period, because it puts a more realistic foundation at the core of a young relationship. I would argue that you are still as likely to assume the best intentions with that person, but your image of that person will be closer to reality and grounded in a shared sense of complicated humanity. In fact, seeing a fellow member through these unfiltered human eyes might even make you more inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt going forward.
It is in those exposed moments that we grow the most as humans, but it is also where we make the strongest bonds.