One of the most important things that I learned in conversations with my Laurel was how dangerous, and detrimental, it can be to apply motive to someone else’s actions. Of course, all of this actually makes sense when you think about it, but I guess I had just never really spent the time on it until a couple of situations came up and we discussed them. It never actually occurred to me how damning (for all parties involved, including the person making the assumptions), that applying motive to someone’s actions can be.
Over the years I have seen it commonly come up in forums, these situations where people are assuming that someone shafted them for some reason (which they do not ACTUALLY know, in most cases) venting about the injustice of it. I have also seen it in person. I know someone who loved to vent about how she was garb snarked at an event once. That a certain Laurel saw her kit and made nasty comments about it. Well, the reality of that situation was that that person was behaving like a total ass at that moment, and she merely got an eye roll over the very poor public behavior (the garb in question was actually wonderful stuff, lol).
So, I want to put an example out there, about how damaging applying motive can be. Here is an example:
At an event Shapoopee (thank you to one of my dear dance teachers for that example name) and Shapeepee are talking to Lady Artisan about their garb. Shapoopee and Shapeepee have only been playing a couple of years and have not yet been awarded an AoA. Lady Artisan has been around a bit longer and has her GoA for her costuming work. They know each other in passing, but not well enough to truly consider each other friends yet.
The three women are all in the center of a room chatting away. Lady Artisan seems a bit distracted a few times but is carrying on her end of the conversation.
Across the room, in full view by all three, is a door and note here that the room is getting more crowded as more and more people enter (perhaps this is the social area of an event, or maybe dayboard is about to start). Eventually through that door comes Laurel Costumer and Laurel Feeder-of-Masses. Shapoopee comments on their entrance because she is in awe of Laurel Costumer's new dress. At that very moment, Lady Artisan cuts off her conversation rather abruptly, and with a quick excuse, makes haste towards the doorway.
Now, Shapoopee and Shapeepee are somewhat stunned by this (rightfully so) and immediately turn to each other and in hushed tones are asking each other “What the hell was that?” They are both a bit hurt about being suddenly abandoned. They come to the quick conclusion that Lady Artisan ditched them in favor of the pair of entering Laurels.
They might tell this story to others, about how they were snubbed because they have no awards, or how Lady Artisan was trying to suck up to the Laurels. The end result is some very damning rumors about Lady Artisan that some might hear (and wrongly) take to heart. Another result of the chatter is that Shapoopee and Shapeepee end up looking quite petty to others. And beyond that even, Shapoopee and Shapeepee might start avoiding Lady Artisan, which could ruin a potential friendship, or they might lose out on some wonderful information because they will now not take her classes.
Now, the question really is - what actually happened here?
Lady Artisan was distracted during the conversation because her young daughter was across the room near the door way playing with some other children. They were all getting a bit rough and rowdy and were getting closer and closer to creating some sort of inadvertent child disaster. At the moment that the Laurels entered the room, she saw the kids romp into a nearby table, spilling the contents of several goblets on it. Lady Artisan was dashing off to do damage control and was more concerned about the idea that the children might have damaged someone’s property than making polite excuses to other adults for abandoning a conversation.
The reaction Shapoopee and Shapeepee had was a natural one to being abandoned, and they missed what else happened because they were (rightfully) a bit stunned. But the point is that, however natural the reaction might be, the assumptions they immediately came too were wrong.
What else could have happened?
Maybe Lady Artisan was just not feeling well that day. Maybe she felt as though she was going to be sick and needed to make a hasty exit. Perhaps, even as she was dashing out of the room, Laurel Costumer did indeed grab her attention to complement her on her work for a split second (before she could once again finish that needed retreat to the rest room). Maybe Shapoopee and Shapeepee saw that and it confirmed their “theory” (which was still, in fact, wrong).
Or perhaps this?
Lady Artisan was actually waiting in the room within view of the door because she had been asked by Lady Costumer to make something special for a Vigil that was happening that night. Lady Artisan should actually have left the event much earlier, as she had to get home after getting a call that the babysitter needed to leave early for some reason. She wanted to make sure that the item got to the proper person and was distracted because she also worried about being late. When Laurel Costumer arrived, she wanted to pass off the item and leave. She was not snubbing anyone, and her only possibly wrong was the lack of grace she showed in her hasty exit.
Or what about this one?
Lady Artisan is at a bit of a loss on some social situations and had more than her fill of peopling for the day. Shapoopee and Shapeepee had a habit of cornering her at every event and talking for hours (often about things well outside an SCA context). Lady Artisan likes these women, but is not very close to them because she feels their personalities do not mesh well. She is getting to a point where she cannot cope with the chatter and attempts (somewhat ungracefully) to make her leave to go see Laurel Costumer, with whom she is actually friends in an effort to calm down and resort her own thoughts.
I could go on.
I could make up these scenarios all day.
I could go on so long I would run out of plausible fictions and I resort to tales of alien abductions or time travel or trips on the Enterprise. And the reality of it is, that unless Lady Artisan actually tells me what happened, I will likely never, ever know the reality of it.
I know that in the SCA, especially on forums where people can ask Peers questions, as well as in conversations amongst Peers about candidates that we love to discuss PLQs. To me, it is critical to try to remove “assumption of motive” from any of these conversations, and from any angle. It is not always possible, and sometimes, yes, there is a long standing pattern of behavior that might offer more insight. But the reality is that we are all doing a disservice to not only the Society, but to each other and ourselves by assuming the worst when we, in all reality, cannot actually guess at the underlying cause of a behavior.