Benefit of the Doubt30 Nov 2012
Have not posted anything in a while because of work but I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic as of late and wanted to discuss it. One of the few childhood memories that survived the Marines and college was an event that would probably change my perception of the world for years to come, not exactly sure how old I was when this happened but to start off, as a youth I had a number of toys and was a very imaginative child.
I use to do stuff like attach parachutes on my GI-Joe’s to throw them off balconies (I played for realism and thought the pre-bought green army guys with parachutes had no place in my imaginative world) as well as set up two armies on opposite sides of the room to battle each other. I had my favorite toys of course, one in particular was a GI-Joe named Freefall who was my preferred action hero. With that being said I also need to explain that I love my brother to death but in our home he had a reputation for breaking his own toys, I don’t really remember how that got started but it was just an understood truth in my house.
One evening I was playing with Freefall, not sure if Skelator was involved but some bad guy in my movie plot line had strapped Freefall to the light bulb under our living room’s ceiling fan and kept threatening to turn it on if he did not tell him the nuclear launch codes. Yet before my guy could make his escape I got called in for dinner and completely forgot my favorite toy hanging up against the light bulb, not quite sure how long he stayed up there but some time passed by and I could not for the life of me find him.
Then one day fate rocked my little world, I was sitting on the couch under that ceiling fan that was just below a high ceiling and suddenly out of nowhere Freefall’s melted leg fell right on my head. His foot was intact but all that remained above it was a melted out line of plastic that looked like it had been it had been hanging melted for some time. Yet my deductive reasoning had not fully matured and my immediate reaction at that point in my life was to think that my old brother did it and had somehow thrown it at me.
I mean in my little pre-pre-teen mind what other explanation could there be, I immediately began looking for evidence, I searched the microwave for the evidence that would indict my big brother in this conspiracy. Immediately realizing that the microwave would have melted the toy completely I moved my attention to the oven. Feeling the out side I realized that it was off and knew that my brother could not have turned the oven on to do this without drawing suspicion from my parents so I finally made my way to the mini toaster.
Having spotted what may have just been strings of melted cheese I immediately put the yellow melted leg of my favorite GI-Joe character up for comparison and thought I had found the evidence I needed. At that point I immediately confronted my brother whom I thought was the guilty party and after a few verbal exchanges got the authorities (parents) involved. In my little mind I was standing up against the blatant disregard for what was mine and the entire house went into an uproar upon my proclamation of evidence.
After much fighting, arguing and yelling one of my parents found said GI-Joe attached to a busted light bulb up on the ceiling fan and brought it down so that I could take a look at what had really happened to him and so that I could apologize. I was forced to say I’m sorry by my parents but having easily forgotten the fight Freefall had with Skelator just a few nights before I was still certain that my brother had done it, I just thought he had been more clever in hiding the evidence in a way that would make me look like the crazy one.
It was not until some time later that I had remembered it was actually my fault and felt horrible for accusing my brother of such a heinous deed. I had not given him the benefit of the doubt and merely chose to follow my version of the evidence thinking that I was intelligent enough to sort out all of the wrong from right in this case and once all of the evidence came to light, call it the my conscience, sheer embarrassment or the Holy Spirit, I felt I had done him wrong.
The reason why I remember this story in such detail even though most of my life before the Marines remains blank in my mind is because of what it taught me over time. I learned that things are never as they seem and as evil as I may have thought my brother was, those were my perceptions and they had no bearing on reality. Had I given him the benefit of the doubt the evidence would have come out anyhow and there would not have been strife in our house that night.
As many of you know I am a Christian and am against the idea that saying or doing anything that can cause division whether it be in the home, at work or among-st family and friends is a good thing, there is a difference between telling the truth and saying something that will cause even more division. My desire sometimes to be a mediator between warring parties can be traced back to that day when I didn’t just loose my favorite toy, but I also lost my ability to trust my own mind’s ability to be rational.
These days it’s even harder to avoid those sort of misunderstandings as everyone is grown up and there are more things at stake than simply a lost toy. When you give someone the benefit of the doubt, that means you trust them even though deep down inside you don’t want to or don’t feel like you can. It goes against human nature but is at the cornerstone of my own spiritual beliefs, in my mind ‘Jesus’ didn’t ask me to turn the other cheek to somehow show weakness, instead he said it because he wanted me to understand something.
In technology which is the industry that I’m in and in business when you give others the benefit of the doubt you tend to micro manage less, that doesn’t mean that your employees or subordinates walk all over you, it just means you choose to believe that the employees you hired are doing the job you hired them for and if the evidence (aka numbers) prove against it then you say something.
As an employee when you give your boss the benefit of the doubt, you choose not to criticize everything he or she does but instead believe that they are doing the best job they can with what skills and abilities they are given and you focus less on them and more on your own work. Not sure how many times I was promoted over those around me because of following this principle.
In family when you give others the benefit of the doubt, it means that you take all of those horrible situations you had as a kid and choose to ignore them. This is because you may not have had the full scope of what was happening to you or your family members at the time. As a child you really don’t know all of the reasons why things are said and or done and much of what you hear explaining such actions tend to come form somewhat unreliable sources.
In friendships when you give others the benefit of the doubt, that can only mean that if someone says or does something that upsets you, then you go to them regardless of your desire not to. You have to work it out not with a judgmental attitude but rather out of a desire to maintain your friendship. To many people will talk to friends in a time of frustration knowing full well that what they are about to say will loose that friend for life and they choose not to care. Giving them the benefit of the doubt means rather than entering the conversation with a fight, you choose to enter it with an open mind or heart regardless of your sense of loss.
Jesus as I see him cares more about our love for one another than he does for our personal circumstances, which is why he said to forgive and when asked how often he said keep forgiving. If someone smacks your cheek give them the other, if someone takes your cloak ask if there is anything else they need. These are hard things for even me to think about but he’s adamant about us doing it and says it’s the foundation for understanding whom he is. Keep in mind that this is coming from the guy who had no problem going into a temple full of shady characters and thrusting them all out by force, he was not weak by any measure.
I think sometimes we just need to not be quick to accuse or get upset when others do or say things that situation-ally effect us because even though we may think we know the full story that may not always be the case. Giving others the benefit of the doubt is not intended to help them in any way shape or form, it rather is meant to help us become slow to anger and more patient as a whole.
Any good negotiator will tell you that you never make major life decisions out of a place of weakness, but when we are angry, when we loose it, when we judge to quickly or hold long term grudges, when we don’t give others the benefit of the doubt we stand in a position of weakness already. This is how wars start, how families fued for years and generations, how people are misjudged and so my hope is that you don’t make my literal childish mistake this year and that you give everyone you meet the benefit of the doubt even if you think they don’t deserve it, not for their sake but for yours.