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Inclusion Column

Presuming competence: Assuming ability!

by Maria Fernanda Valero Millano, PK Learning Specialist

There is a recent boom about positive thoughts, positive messages, and positive psychology in general. Some people agree and actually try to apply this everyday, following these messages, activities, and guidelines that society comes up with (yoga, mindfulness, fitness…). In social terms, we know some agreements that work as a foundation to promote positive social interactions. One of these agreements is to presume good intentions.

Naturally, as a human being, many people surround us, and some daily experiences stay set in our minds as a habit, and this makes us assume things based on past experiences, or even based on our current mood.

If we presume good intentions we avoid having many negative thoughts, feelings, and most importantly, we avoid judging people or situations without having facts.

Presuming good intentions means to give the benefit of the doubt. None of us perceive ourselves as the villains of our own life stories. We attribute good intentions to our own actions. What happens when we attribute these good intentions to our students, or others in our lives?

Basically, what happens is that we consider people’s abilities, feelings, strengths, and we hope for the best at the end. This means, that we will expect, or at least try to think in a different way than the negative, stereotyped, old-fashioned way.

Presuming good intentions and presuming competence go hand in hand. When we presume competence we focus on the positive abilities that a person will be able to perform. “If we wrongly assume that a competent individual cannot learn and understand, and restrict her opportunities as a result, we’ve done her a great disservice. If we wrongly assume, for example, that a person with autism cannot feel love or enjoy friendship, we’ve also deprived him the chance to share in the deepest aspects of human experience”

In short, the presumption of competence is what researcher Anne Donnellan has called the “least dangerous assumption”: in the absence of absolute evidence, it is essential to choose the assumption that, if proven to be false, would be least dangerous to the individual”

As part of our daily routine, and to promote inclusion in our community, it is important to consider using:

  • Positive language and vocabulary when referring to other people, and to yourself
  • Recognize differences as areas of potential strength, and not as a barrier
  • Know and learn by asking before making comments or judgments
  • Set the bar high, and adapt according to the abilities

To focus on the positive, on the abilities, to presume good intentions and competence comes from a daily practice where we experience empathy. At ASFM we cultivate our values and we encourage our community to accept differences by looking at things from a more positive perspective.

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