The Benefit Of The Doubt
I recently heard someone I love very much say,
“At my age, I am not afraid to say what I think. I’ve earned the right to express my opinion.”
And I agree.
At my age, I expect civility, kindness, and respect.
If your comment is needlessly hurtful or disrespectful – even in the smallest way – I don’t want to hear it.
Keep your unkind thoughts to yourself, please.
And by the way, let me also say this:
WHY ARE YOU EVEN HAVING THOSE THOUGHTS?
I read an article not long ago about happy marriages. One of the keys to a happy marriage is to ascribe GOOD INTENTIONS to your partner.
I think this is true not only of marriages but in all of life.
We all need to try harder to judge people more kindly. Not to assume the worst but to assume the best. Or, if you cannot assume the best, to assume at least – ‘not the worst.’
Be generous in your judgments.
A few examples:
1. You are meeting your husband after work for dinner at your favorite restaurant. He’s late. Again. And you build up a nice steaming pile of anger. You think: ‘He knows I’m waiting, but as usual, he is shooting the breeze with friends, and leaving me sitting here alone. He is so thoughtless.’ And Hubby finally shows up, forty minutes late. “I’m sorry,” he says. “Jerry called and he was feeling really down. He’s so lonely right now. He didn’t realize when he moved how much he would miss his friends.” So, yes. You were right. He was shooting the breeze with his friend.
2. A co-worker promised you the data you need for your report by 2 PM. But it’s now 3:30 and you’re still waiting. Your report will be late because, once again, your co-worker let you down. She’s so unreliable. You stomp over to her desk to let her know that you are going to have to work late because of her. And when you get to her cubicle, you see that she is just sitting there looking at the phone. And you are about to let go with your frustration, when she says, “My son is sick. And he’s home alone. I was talking to him on the phone earlier and the boss came in and he screamed at me for goofing off. The kid’s eleven. He’s just a little boy and home by himself, and now I want to call him again, but I’m afraid I’ll get fired.”
3. The car in front of you with the out-of-state plates is making you crazy. First slow and then fast, then slow again. Then the turn signal is on. But no, it’s off. Not horrible, not dangerous, just annoying. You think: ‘What an asshole. Get off the road if you don’t know how to drive.’ They finally pull over, and as you pass, you see a woman at the wheel with two kids in the backseat. Two kids and a pile of suitcases. And one kid is crying. And the other one is trying to show his mother a map.
Here’s what you could think instead:
1. Instead of ‘He’s shooting the breeze with a friend; how thoughtless to ignore me,’ you could think – ‘He’s probably listening to someone’s troubles again; he’s always a good friend when someone needs him.’
2. Instead of ‘She’s so unreliable, and now I will have to work late,’ you could think – after giving her just a little time, and yourself less time to get angry and more time to get the work done – ‘I wonder if she’s got a problem getting the data together… I’ll go ask her if there’s anything I can to do help.’
3. Instead of ‘What an asshole – get off the road,’ when the turns signal goes on and off, you could think – ‘I bet they are looking for their turn. It’s so hard to read the street signs when the traffic is moving so fast.’
When you give people the benefit of the doubt, you automatically assume that they are nice people trying their best. And your anger dissipates.
And it’s so nice not to be angry.
When you assign benevolent motives to people instead of assuming unpleasant motives, the world itself becomes a more benevolent place.
And that friend who ignored you in the supermarket just didn’t see you.
And the guy who cut in front of you in Starbucks simply thought you had already been waited on.
And the boss who snapped at you for questioning his decision had a fight this morning with his teenager who also was challenging his authority.
And the waitress who brought you the wrong order is exhausted from working a double shift because her kid needs his asthma medication and she has no health benefits.
And the friend who wrote on Facebook that she absolutely hated the movie you and other friends are raving about just wanted to be part of the conversation and didn’t go about it in the best way.
And your kids who didn’t come right away when you called them aren’t brats – they weren’t paying attention because they were having so much fun.
And that’s what you want.
For the world to be a nicer place?
Try seeing it that way.