Benefit of the Doubt

Posted: March 5, 2010 in Life
Tags: , , ,

You know something?  I have no idea where the phrase “benefit of the doubt” originated.  Yet, we all know what it means.

Being a laid back person often means others think that you’re casual about everything.  So they get a little surprised when they find out that you have no tolerance for anything other than the “benefit of the doubt” when they’re dealing with you.  

“Why did you let the door hit me in the face?”

I looked at my colleague. “Why do you assume I saw you following me?”

It’s like that.  I make a point of assuming the best of others.  Maybe this is clause #415 of the Golden Rule, section B.   Or maybe it’s just a good idea.   Everyone reading this blog has found themselves on the wrong end of the pooping elephant of misunderstanding, right?  You can think of times when you did something and a loved one or friend misinterpreted you, or assumed the worst.  (Tell me about it in your comments!)

Anyway – it sucks, doesn’t it?

Only makes sense not to make the same mistake with them, right?  Like, when that server at the restaurant forgets to bring you your drink not once, but three times.  Well, he or she’s just lazy and stupid right?   I grew up with that mindset.   Until, I had a bad day and people assumed I was stupid and lazy.   It’s not fair when it happens to me.

Maybe the server was up all night with a sick kid, and so was just unfocused.  Maybe he or she is a single parent, too.

It doesn’t make it any easier for you when you’re just trying to have a good night out and the server has forgotten you.  It happens.   It’s life.  You have options:  you can make a big deal about it and complain to the manager, or you can leave a penny tip, or you can assume the best of motives, leave your normal tip and carry on.   Really, when you think about it – how many people truly have nefarious evil motives?  

Well other than politicians and teenagers, I mean.  

And plumbers who insist on not tightening their belts enough to avoid the dreaded butt cleavage.  

And the upstairs neighbour who has his music turned up so loud you can’t get any sleep.  Doesn’t he *know* you need to get up at 5:00?   What?  You didn’t talk with him? Uh huh.

When I met a girl six years ago, I thought she was amazing.  Cute, tiny actually – maybe 5’0″ or so.  Like The Girl I’m with now, this one was Russian too.  (In fact, The Girl and I talked about her).    We went out for about six months, off and on.

There were a few things about her though that I found odd.

She never invited me up to her place.  Ever.

She often lapsed into a brooding silence when we were together.  I had no idea why.

She wanted to talk about me, but we hardly ever talked about her.

I assumed the best.  Maybe she had a horrible past and just didn’t want to think about it or talk about it.  I didn’t push.

One day though, we were at a restaurant, and I had enough.   There we sat, our meals done, and the bill paid.  She was brooding again.

I looked at her.  “What are you thinking about?”

She looked back at me, then down, saying nothing.

I decided to push.  “You look as if you are married with six kids or something.”   To this day, I have no idea where that thought came from.  It just popped out. 

She looked back at me in alarm.  Her face drained of all colour.

“I don’t have six kids…..” she began.  Then stopped.

It was too surreal.  I had assumed the best of this woman and she had dropped this bombshell.   In a split second, the trust that was her default when we started out was suddenly ripped to shreds.   She was married, and she hadn’t bothered to tell me.

I looked at my glass of water, thinking.   Then I stood up.



This changed nothing about me, though.  My positive presumptions remain the same with almost anyone I meet.  

Better to trust and be betrayed, I think,  than to assume the worst and be alone.

  1. Roger's Place says:

    Great post. I agree with you 100 per cent and with a bunch of underlines.

    I used to be a mental health therapist and “assuming the worst intent by other people” was one of the most common mistakes made.

    The more you allow for the unknown vagaries of life, the more you can be open to giving the other person a break.

    “Just give me some slack, OK?”……. Thanks, you helped me out, “even if I didn’t notice you gave me a break.” 8)


    • Thanks Roger. I wish I’d learned this logical way of thinking years ago. It would have saved a lot of time and angst. I mean, marriages break up because of negative assumptions. People lose jobs because of it, and I’m convinced wars are started because of it.

      I can only assume that people who are good mediators understand this dynamic all too well, and so their sole job is to faciliate discussion such that all parties finally assume the best of each other.


  2. Loree says:

    I handle being misunderstood so poorly. SO poorly. It crushes me and then because it crushes me it makes me mad and then I shut down and, sometime hours or days or never later, I get back in the game and try to straighten things out. So poorly.

    I give the benefit of, too, but I will admit that my internal bullshit radar has gotten reasonably impeccable over the years so those who deserve a short string are on it pretty quickly.

    This is great. And I like the look in here.


    • We’re birds of a feather on this one Loree. I do have a very short temper when it comes to being misunderstood. I expect and demand that others in my life (friends, family) assume positive motivations from me, because that happens to be exactly right. It’s my truth. I generally and genuinely like people, but I also like myself too – and sometimes actions will conflict because of that. It’s never because I’m lazy or selfish or just want to be rude though. Never. I don’t assume it of them, and I demand that don’t assume it of me.

      Bullshit detectors. That’s another blog. I think you can have that functioning quite well and still assume the best of most people. (Wait, did I use the word “all” in that last sentence of my blog? Nope. I used the word “almost”. Good.) *grin*

      I like it here too. Doesn’t seem as busy as that Other Place. And everything in here is about the blogging, so there’s no side distractions.

      I’m frankly in love (or terrific like, maybe) with wordpress.


  3. jeff says:

    this happens to me as well and usually because of my laid back attitude. I don’t bother correcting people though…I let them parade off thinking they know it all cause I’d hate to ruin their day by explaining how ignorant they are.

    Married, eh? Ouch.


    • Yes, sometimes it’s not worth the effort to correct their wrong impressions. Guess it depends upon who’s making the assumption. If it’s someone very close, I’ll make a point of letting them know how close they are to pissing me off. :) At other times – it’s just not worth it.

      Married. Yes. She kind of stunned me with that one, as I had no idea. None at all. Yet, it seems curious and odd that what really was a non-sequitur comment from me revealed her for what she was.


  4. Nadia Chyme says:

    This post just made me so sad. I’m with Loree, I handle being misunderstood very badly. And I’m not sure where it stems from. Probably becuase I try so hard to be CLEAR, to be as SIMPLE and DIRECT as possible so there isn’t any misunderstanding and so when it happens, I’m almost beside myself.

    And I always give the benefit of the doubt too — but again, like Loree, over the years I’ve learned some valuable lessons and I have definitely developed a “Three strikes your out” clause. And goodness gracious you’d be suprised how fiercely I stick to it. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt three times, and then…we’re done!

    Oh, and the thing about the waiter, or a person have a bad day — you know, that makes comeplete sense. But you know the waiter (or whomever it is) I appreciate the most, is the one that will say to me, “I’m so sorry, I can’t believe I forgot that order three times. I’m just haven’t a bad day…”. That person gets a pass all the time from well as a big huge fat tip (I’m a great tipper and a SAP for kindness especially under duress!).


    • Nadia Chyme says:

      …and as we can see, Nadia is having a bad writing day because that last paragraph is a mess! Apologies bloggy-folk! ;)


    • I used to over-worry about making sure I was clear, with all of the cautions and “I don’t mean this, I mean THIS” comments in place. No more. I take others at face value without ascribing negative motives and I fully expect the same in return. As a result, I’ve had some heated words with some people. Eventually they stop pulling my tail (uh, so to speak).

      Some people – servers or others – have such rotten days they don’t even think to articulate that fact to the rest of us so that we can have some compassion on them. I once had a waitress who truly forgot to bring me my drink, despite my reminding her a few times It wasn’t until the next week that I went in that she took the time to explain that she’d been sick that day and they were short-staffed and wanted her to come in. She apologized.

      Three strikes is generous! :)


  5. Susan says:

    It’s a hard life when you don’t give trust. I have been betrayed equally as much as I haven’t, if not more. I keep an open mind, however, and do not remove my trust until I am betrayed. I am actually pretty forgiving, to a fault almost. Some people do not understand how I can continue to associate with people who have betrayed me… but there are 2 things to remember (about me anyway) #1 keep your friends close but your enemies closer #2 never forget, but do forgive. So, I’m anxious for an update on your current love interest. I’m hoping for the best!


    • I’m fairly forgiving too. Unless the actions of others proved to be outright selfish. Like the girl who neglected to tell me she was married. I have no problem walking away when that happens, without anger, but with heavy indifference. (Which is probably worse than anger).

      The Girl and I are going out for date #4 tomorrow. So far we’re taking it *slow*. :)


  6. Susan says:

    Slow is good… which I’m sure I don’t need to tell you, but in case I do… :)
    Yeah, a lot of times it is with heavy indifference that I deal as well and that is worse than anger, but it seems to work better for me that exploding with anger. I understand.
    Hope #4 is going grrrrrrrrrrreat!


  7. Just Me says:

    I myself am a very trusting person, almost always giving people the benefit of the doubt the first couple times. After that, I guess it comes down to a gut feeling as to whether I think the person is just an ass or sincere. I’ve known quite a few people who turn out to be the former deep down.

    As for other people thinking the worst about me….I’ve had that happen quite a few times and it never feels good. I used to manage at a restaurant for years, I quit eventually but I guess I never gave back the keys. A while after I quit, a couple months or so I think, someone came in the place after close and drank and left a mess. While working somewhere I else I heard about it and that the owner thought it was me. Even though there were a bunch of people that worked there that went in after close and drank all the time, they all said they didn’t do it.

    I went in to talk to the owner eventually and after some discussion he had one of the managers tell me that I wasn’t allowed in there anymore. He didn’t believe me! This was a place I worked for years, from when they first opened and I had tons of friends who worked there, or so I thought since none of them stood up and said I wouldn’t do that. That opened my eyes a bit. Even after the owner sold the place and I was “allowed” back in I just couldn’t bring myself to go back.


    • I can well imagine your distaste for ever going back. Don’t know about you but my experience is that when I’m wrongly accused of something there’s a sure bet that the person doing the judging is himself guilty of such behaviour and mindset. It can be quite revealing.

      Funny how disappointing it is when you find out how “true” some of those friends are, isn’t it? I had a “friend” who promised me the world – which I found out was just all hot air when the bad times came.


  8. Mikey says:

    Yeah, I kinda came across it the same way you did. One day, somebody went off on me for something I did accidentally. Since then, I’ve gotten very good at seeing a situation from more than one side. As a matter of fact, I often piss friends off when they’re telling me something. It usually goes “Can you believe so-and-so did such-and-such?” and then I go “well, maybe it was this way….” And there is many a time when I hear a story and go “Yeah, that’s likely. That guy really went through all that trouble just to F your day up.” Some people are just self-centered enough to believe that everything that happens was done specifically to them, so it seems like a personal attack.

    I find that assuming the negative, or thinking about things from a negative viewpoint, weighs on me. Like the idea that a family member or friend might be using me, or something. My brain just doesn’t want to go down that road, because it’s a dangerous road when you start to doubt like that. I’m a very on/off person when it comes to trust. I either trust you implicitly, or I don’t. If I don’t trust you, I simply don’t allow you to get close enough to affect my life. It feels better to believe that the more positive side at least could be the truth.


    • It really does. Plus, it’s a heck of a lot more logical isn’t it – especially when you think about the things you’ve done, by accident, or where what you’ve done or said could be taken two ways: the negative deliberately abusive way, or the way you really meant it. Doesn’t take long to extrapolate that into how others act and what they say as well.

      I like what you said about pissing your friends off when you provide alternative explanations for what went wrong. That’s really kind of interesting (and I’ve noticed the same thing over here). Is it that we really want the drama of thinking that someone deliberately burned us? Do we prefer that explanation, so that we can get all hot and angry? I don’t know. It certainly looks that way.


  9. lilmisses says:

    This was a good one! I might have to steal this line: “Better to trust and be betrayed, I think,  than to assume the worst and be alone.” Love your blog.


    • Thank you! And thank you for reading and commenting too.

      Don’t you find there’s a lot of people who practice the safe thing, and don’t trust anyone? I’ve noticed that a lot, especially here in Toronto. Makes for a pretty boring place really.


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