The puffy shoulders on my wedding dress dated me for a while, but with the latest clothing trend showcasing exaggerated shoulders, I might just have a retro sensation safely stored away.
I would love to see a revival of a few other things, and topping that list is the benefit of the doubt.
Do you remember a time when we gave that — the benefit of the doubt — to each other? When we didn’t jump to conclusions without making sure we had all the facts?
Do you remember knowing people well enough to know when something seemed out of character for them? And then reaching out to them to talk and work through whatever seemed off?
Do you remember assuming the best in people, even when they misspoke or mishandled a situation?
I remember, and I miss it.
Did I always get it right? Not at all. Were there times others would have understood me better if they had given me the benefit of the doubt in a specific circumstance? Absolutely.
But the moments we didn’t practice this show of grace were rare. They were the exception, not the rule.
We seem to have shifted from “exception” to “rule,” but I believe we can get our “benefit of the doubt” back in shape.
- Practice, practice, practice.
It’s an age-old concept and one we all know. To excel in any area requires practice. Start today and watch your muscle memory eventually take over.
- Look beyond the sound bite.
Headlines are written to grab your attention, but they can’t provide the full story. Social media posts and TV sound bites capture punchy comments, quotable moments and one layer of someone’s opinion, description or explanation.
To fully understand requires reading, listening and/or researching. It requires time and attention.
- Get to know the person you seem to dislike.
Taking the time to hear someone’s heart and how he or she came to a certain conclusion, why he is passionate about a certain cause or where she is struggling to make a decision changes everything.
It doesn’t mean we will agree nor that we have to accept the findings. It doesn’t mean we will become best friends and meet for coffee every Thursday.
But it does mean we are working to fully understand what is taking place. It also means we respect the other person’s right to his or her own opinion and reasonings.
- Find the good in every situation.
Romans 8:28 gets us every time, doesn’t it?
And while I’m not trying to over spiritualize the basic concept of offering the gift of the benefit of the doubt, I do want to emphasize the importance of looking for the good and how finding the good provides hope and peace.
Sometimes the good is bigger than our individual situations, and may even mean we had to sacrifice something significant in our own lives.
- Model and mentor.
Once we are back in shape ourselves, we can help build a world of “benefit of the doubt” providers.
Showcase your moves and encourage others to give it a try. Say out loud to others, “I am confused by the decision too, but I’m going to give the group the benefit of the doubt and trust that the members did their homework.”
Or maybe, “That seems really out of character for her. I’m going to call her up and find out what’s really going on. Something must be wrong — or maybe we don’t have all the facts.”
And also, “I can’t support his stance and I’m sure I can’t convince him to change his mind, but I’m still going to reach out to see if I can learn more about his reasoning.”
You’ll know what to say.
The main thing is the visible action of doing the work to assume the best in others as our first response — not only to demonstrate an intentional effort to better understand, but also because the Bible tells us that every human being is made in God’s image.
1 Peter 3:8 says it well: “Live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.”
James 4:11, 1 Thessalonians 5:11 and John 13:34–35 are also helpful reminders.
Being a child of God extends beyond our personal relationship with Him. The fact is, we will never reach the end of the line of people we are called to love and value.