Benefit of the Doubt (And Why to Give It)

Two bull bison fighting symbolizing people arguing.

Sometimes all it takes is a little humility.

I want to encourage you to swim against the current, run against the grain, turn into the wind, etc. I want you to give people the benefit of the doubt. What are the benefits of being more trusting? I would bet you will have higher life satisfaction. Why? Because you will not be so judgmental; you will start to believe people are fundamentally good. And that is important if you want to have healthy relationships with your friends, neighbors, family, and love interests.

The Negative Influence of the Media

We live in an age where very few people have the personal strength and moral sense to give others the benefit of the doubt. It is too profitable to do the exact opposite. Worst of all, our society trains us to take a guilty until proven innocent mentality right from the get go. One source of our suspicious minds are media outlets that constantly scream for attention.

They make their profits by getting their readers all worked up so those people will share the information and bring in a larger crowd to read their content. You know the drill: one of your friends posts an outrageous article on Facebook, you read the article, and then you watch a video in which the host lampoons whoever is on the menu that day. And, I am sure that you have thought more than a few times that the media is not interpreting the situation correctly.

Long story short, the media outlets have discovered the best way to get attention is by screaming. And we very rarely give people the benefit of the doubt when we are throwing a tantrum. Influential people take what others are saying in the most horrific possible way. They assign the person of interest the most horrific possible motives. Guess what? That is the complete antithesis of love; it is not charity. It is not ethical or honorable. It is hustling for attention.

And if you do not believe me, read this article by Steven Pinker.

Learn to Love

A pair of friends making up because they gave each other the benefit of the doubt.

You have heard the saying that love believes all things. That idiom argues that people who know how to truly love to know how to give others the benefit of the doubt. And I am not talking about the selfish love we manage to work up for the people we are attracted to. I mean love as a mindset and a lifestyle. If you can love, even when something is wrong with your world, you will be happier than 99% of other people.

Next time someone says or does something that upsets you, ask yourself whether they might have meant what they said in a none destructive way. Give them the benefit of the doubt.

Give people room to speak. Do not take their meaning in the worst possible way. Believe that they are sensitive just like you, and that any viciousness comes from their own suffering. And if you determine that a person is trying to harm you, consider the possibility that they are weak not evil.

When Not to Give the Benefit of the Doubt

I realize that we cannot give people the benefit of the doubt in every situation. This is especially true if you have a long history with the person, and they repeatedly try to hurt you or engage in destructive behaviors.  But you do need to remember that you have no idea what is going on in their heads. What is the cause of their behavior?

If you can learn to simultaneously give the benefit of the doubt and act in your own interest and against destructive behaviors, shoot me an email, because you have learned how to truly love other people.

Your Game Plan

A man leaning against a rail in front of a lake.

But for the rest of us that are not superheroes, and we need examples. I want you to reflect on the people in your life. And I want you to share the message of this article. Think about how much the world would change if we managed to give each other the benefit of the doubt.

Remind yourself that you often assess a situation in a way that the person who hurt you did not intend. Think about times and experiences that you have had where someone gave you the benefit of the doubt. How did that affect you?

Perhaps you have these types of experiences in your marriage. Maybe a coworker has looked past something hurtful you said. I would bet that your family gives you the benefit of the doubt every day.

Think of examples where a person did not interpret your words in the worst possible way but chose to believe in you; they acknowledged that you are growing, and under a lot of pressure. They saw you as a fundamentally good person despite the pain you caused.