The Benefit of the Doubt

Here’s one of the best gifts you can give. I’m not very good at it… yet. But it’s something I want to be so much better at.

Heart rock

That’s a strange phrase when you think about it. When we say we’re “giving someone the benefit of the doubt” we’re really saying that we give them the gift of believing the best about them. I don’t know about you, but that’s a gift I would definitely like. 

However, I’m not very good about doing that. Yet. I find myself getting annoyed so easily. When someone leaves a mess behind. Annoyed. When someone doesn’t do something they said they would do. Irritated. When someone cuts me off on the highway. Disgusted.

I’m not proud of this at all. It’s something I’m really truly trying to shift in my life. Because, honestly, when I’m annoyed and irritated all the time, it stinks! What a heavy, dark place to spend the day. Trust me, I know.

I imagine it stems back to my own perfectionist tendencies. I have ridiculously high expectations for myself. And subsequently, for people around me. But ever since I realized that I was doing this (about 15 years ago now) I am working on being a recovering perfectionist. And on giving that gift to others as well.

I’ve learned a little something that helps me to give others the benefit of the doubt a little more often. It comes in two forms, depending on the situation.

First, when I personally know someone and understand the situation surrounding my irritation, here’s what I do. In an instance like this, what helps me the most, is to look past the annoyance and try to see it from the best point of view. For example, when someone leaves a mess in the house, I try to think about what they were doing. Were they so excited about what they were doing that they just missed the mess? Were they in a hurry to do something important, like get to work on time? While I’m not excusing a person from not cleaning up after themselves, looking at the situation while understanding that there was really something good going on that caused the missed clean up, lessens my annoyance with it. Does that make sense?

Second, when I don’t know the person or situation, here’s what I do. I make up a story. Yes, you read that right, I try to imagine what was happening that made that person choose what they did. For example, when I’m driving down the highway and someone blows past me and cuts me off, instead of being thoroughly disgusted, I make up a story about what is going on with them. Are they rushing to the hospital because their wife is in labor? Are they hurrying to catch up with their sweetheart before she boards the plane to Istanbul? While, again, I’m not excusing someone from making a less-than-perfect choice (is there such a thing as a perfect choice??), imagining that the person is really doing something good, lessens my irritation. See how that works?

And that’s the secret! And that’s what I’m still working on. Every. Day. But it genuinely makes a difference in MY life (lighter!) when I give others the benefit of the doubt and understand or imagine that most of us really are just trying to do our best.

And yes, this most emphatically applies to ourselves as well. Another post.

How do you give others the benefit of the doubt?

2 thoughts on “The Benefit of the Doubt

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