The Benefit of the Doubt

How often do you give people the benefit of the doubt?
You might believe there are people or groups of people in your life who ‘don’t deserve it’. We make assumptions. Our brains naturally want to sort and classify all the other humans and we choose to believe generalizations and that allow us to see how we differ on a superficial level.
You might have people in your life where you have assumed you know ‘where they are coming from’ based on past actions or words. Your brain likes to create rules about the other humans, even if those rules are based on our interpretation of their behavior. Offering the benefit of the doubt to those people would mean having to re-think our rules and your brain has an innate resistance to the extra credit work.
Consider the person who cuts you off in traffic or who is driving too slow in the left lane. You assume he is an asshole and that he has no respect. Or that he is too self-centered to care about anyone else. Or that no one taught him how to drive.
What about your co-worker or your boss who always seems to arrive with a bad attitude? You assume she doesn’t like you. Or that she is insensitive. Or that she is someone who just likes to make everyone around her as miserable as she is.
Consider your kids. They say things or do things and you assume they are trying to manipulate or use you. You might (secretly) resent having to do all you do when they seem to be so ungrateful.
What about when your partner can’t seem to remember to put gas in the car? You see them as inconsiderate and assume they are actively doing things to piss you off.
Or someone who has a strong social media presence who puts up a post that you believe is insensitive. You jump to a conclusion, based on your interpretation of what they are saying and feed off some of the other negative comments on their post, choosing to go with the masses.
We often seem to be hesitant these days to give others the benefit of the doubt, partially because we have seen the inherent danger in ‘turning a blind eye’ to the injustices in our culture. To which I say amen! But the pendulum has a tendency to swing hard to the other side and I happen to think we must also strive to see things for what they are.
It is important to not dismiss our ability to give others the benefit of the doubt when it is needed. It will require more mental energy, but those of us with the ability to engage this thought process need to use it and help others see its value.
The driver who cut you off might have just not seen you. It’s not like it hasn’t ever happened to you. You might pull up beside the slow driver in the left lane to see someone who seems a little lost. Or maybe she looks just like your mother and your line of reasoning changes.
Your co-worker might have something going on at home that he or she has been unable to share.
Your kids are likely doing the best they can do and are in their own way, just trying to figure out this crazy experience called life.
Your partner might not have the same rules as you do about why you should never let the tank get below half.
The person on social media probably isn’t evil. It might be that you have misinterpreted the post. It might just be that they are human too.
When you take a pause, you might be able to see the other person’s humanness. And if they deserve our scorn, so be it. But if you can cut them some slack and allow for their imperfections, you might be able to also allow yourself the same grace.
It’s your life – make it a great one!