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.
- Posted in: Advice ♦ kindness ♦ Marriage ♦ Work
- Tagged: assumptions, Generosity, motives
I started learning about that after nearly getting into a fight at an intersection back in the early 80s. It worried me so I changed my attitude and became the most courteous driver on the road. The fun part was that people behind me would get on their horns when I let people merge. It was hilarious. I have made a concerted effort to be kinder and give the benefit of the doubt whenever possible. Sure, I backslide now and then, but only for a moment. It makes for a more calm and peaceful existence and seriously lowers stress to do as you suggest.
It truly is a stress reducer to just assume the best about people.
Thank you for reminding me of this. I’ll try harder!
We all need to try, Mary. I am not always successful, but I’m learning.
Excellent! Now that you have tackled that phrase…..
What about older men who think it’s okay now that they are older to be “dirty old men” and relentlessly flirt or say or act any way they want. Do they know it is not funny to anyone.
That’s a hard one. I guess the most benevolent explanation would be that the old guy isn’t quite aware of how uncomfortable and inappropriate he’s being. I would tell him so. Not angrily, but firmly.
I must disagree with your “#3”, considering all the jerks who are consulting their cellphones when they should be paying attention to driving. And it is a situation which is slowly increasing. I have no tolerance for them, whether or not crying children are involved.
Oh, I realize there are a lot of negligent assholes out there. I just believe we shouldn’t assume that’s what they are – when it is kinder to assume otherwise.
This is wonderful…and inspiring. I wish everyone would take on this generous attitude. I am certainly going to try! Thank you!
Thanks. I try to be generous in my assumptions. That’s what I want for myself, so I give it to others too. It may not help others, but I know it helps me.
Everyone has bad days; if we assume the worst of people, they generally give it to us. Assume the best (and be polite and considerate and complimentary) and people often surprise us!
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You remind me of my husband’s attitude when we were building our house. He was the general contractor, and he gave our very elaborate plans to quite a few subcontractors who had never done anything that complicated. They all said later that it was the best work they had ever done in their lives, and they brought their families to see the house and they took photos to show others and to remember the work they had done. Such pride in their accomplishments!
WOWNancy, I am definitely saving this post and refer back to it often. A great lesson to learn and a great lesson to pass on to those we love, which if its okay, I’d like to share it with my granddaughter. Who, by the way, is studying to be an English Teacher and also a very talented writer.(I often pass your blogs along to her and I’ve gotten a lot o feed back from her, so thank you for giving us a platform to discuss)
Thanks Doris, maybe someday soon you and I and your granddaughter can meet and discuss in person!
Reblogged this on ugiridharaprasad.
I agree- but it has to be in a manner that does not damage you inwards. Too many cases of cancer – stomach and oesophagus- just happened around me, and if you take a closer look you see they swallowed too much of their anger. So, give the benefit of the doubt, but also point out what consequences you have to face because of whatever’s happening.
Thank you for pointing out what I SHOULD have said, but did not: That giving people the benefit of the doubt does NOT mean tolerating abuse or injustice. ALWAYS stand up to abuse!
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This hit home. I always assume my husband is doing something stupid when I end up waiting for him. Which is often. You’re right. I have no idea what he’s really doing, and my suspicions are always incorrect.
I should share this post…so many people could become happier if they were to adopt this philosophy.
I so agree with this. Reminds me of a time when I rented a car in England. I stuck a US flag sticker on the back window as a clue that I was pretty clueless, especially on the roundabouts, and it actually worked. Most people cut me a little slack.
Absolutely – Age does not entitle you to be rude, aggressive or judgemental (well you may be but keep your thoughts to yourself). As I have got older (nearly 70 now) I am increasingly aware that it is better to express oneself in polite, measured language. You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar!
I so agree. You say it with poise and feeling. The world should listen!
I really agree with what you are saying. Many things in life become much less stressful or frustrating when you can stop for a second and remember that there is another human on the other side that is probably just trying to do their best. There are people who aren’t, of course, but that doesn’t mean that the rest of the world doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt.
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I completely agree with what you said. I am on almost an everyday basis telling my boyfriend to give people the benefit of the doubt and he hates it, but on most occasions he sees that I am right about what I am saying.
Practice the pause….take a breath and then look for the good and practice kindness.
Reblogged this on Bobbi's Blog.
Excellent, so very true, and although I really do try to see the best, I sometimes fail miserably at it. Thank you for this post it was so well written and it really encouraged me to do more.
I was all of these things written in your post. But, now I have started changing myself. I have started being less harsh on myself, and also with others. I give them the benefit of doubt. I put myself in their shoes and the feel to vent out is suddenly not that strong. Thanks for such a positive post. It helps!
Some words just change the way you perceive things.
benefit of doubt, really nice. I will try it.
I need to work on this. A lot. Rage seems to be my constant companion these days. Fortunately, I internalize it and don’t go around yelling at everyone. Still, I need to work on this.