Sometimes you hear people say “What you see is what you get,” meaning the thing or person is exactly as it appears. Whatever you see is what you will get from that thing or person. But I think it works the other way around, too. What you get is often a result of what you see. If you see the world as a dangerous and discouraging place, that is what you will get–bad luck and a lot of unhappy experiences. And if you see the world as a basically good place and you assume other people have good intentions, that is what you will get more often than not. Even when a person disappoints you or exploits you, if you have a mostly trusting view of the world, you will assume that person has a lot of inner pain and his or her inborn good nature has somehow gotten distorted.
Much like the character of Jean Valjean in Les Miserables, the world around us will be transformed by how we see it. You may have read or heard of the scene where Jean Valjean steals valuable silver from a priest’s home and is apprehended by the police and taken back to the home to return the silver. When they arrive, the priest tells the police that the silver is not stolen, it was a gift. By this act, Valjean is changed from a thief into a beneficiary. And at this moment, Valjean has a change of heart and begins to live into that positive view of himself.
We all have mixed motives most of the time. We want to feel good and get what we want, and at the same time, we care about other people and will make effort to promote their well-being. We have lapses and we have moments of deep altruism. When we can give other people the benefit of a more nuanced understanding of human motivation, both ours and theirs, we will see good intentions and bring good intentions, which is a wonderful perspective from which to engage with the world. And because we will see it, we are more likely to get it.