THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT
Dee Chadwick
20 Jun 2021
Are you the kind of person who readily gives someone the benefit of the doubt? Accepting that someone or something is honest, deserving of our trust even though we may have doubts. Or, like me, do you consider each situation on its own merits before deciding on whether to let your doubts or trust dominate?

SITUATIONS WHEN YOU SHOULD ALWAYS WITHOLD DOUBT

Let’s start off with an important point. Basically, if you can learn to set aside self-doubt, and have the courage of your own convictions, trust yourself, you will benefit so very much. That isn’t to say that you should always just forge ahead even if you feel that your plan isn’t working. That would be bonkers. No, you weigh up the pros and cons and give consideration to these, question what you have done but in a positive way rather than letting doubts niggle their way into your thought processes.  Once you begin to doubt yourself and what you have done, what you are doing, you can all too easily go into hamster in a ball mode with the doubts spreading through to other areas of your life. We ALL make mistakes. Don’t beat yourself up about them. Turn them into either trivia as in ‘if that’s the worst thing to happen today, then it’s been a good day’ or into an acknowledgement that you have learned how not to do something .... and move onwards without getting out that big stick and beating yourself up.

COULD IT BE A CASE OF HEAD v HEART?

Do you err on the side of listening to your head or your heart when it comes to your feelings about people, including giving or withholding the benefit of your doubts? I had to give this some thought with reference to myself and came to the conclusion that I can employ either, depending on the person involved. I am more cautious if the person isn’t someone that I know well, so maybe I don’t fully trust; so my head tends to be the dominant decider. However, if someone I know, care for, even love, then the old ticker is called in to play. This can count for or against that person as I am aware that I feel such people have earned my trust, so the benefit of any doubts are put on the back burner. However, should they then go on to give further cause for me to consider my feelings, that old back burner spits those doubts right to the front of my mind and I doubt big time. Here, I hold up my hand and accept that if trust has again been broken by someone close, especially if hurt has been caused, it takes a lot for me to give them the benefit of any doubts, though with others I seemingly do so with little hesitation.

WHAT OF PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE, EXTERNAL INFLUENCES?

Previous hurt and negative experiences can colour our ability to give that benefit of the doubt, often  leading to us erring on the side of caution.  Previous positive experiences even though people, scenarios may be very different can lead to us throwing that caution to the wind.  

We are all capable of putting our own spin on to things. Each going with what we perceive as our truth, no matter what the actual truth may be ... and I have to say that I don’t like the current trend of the use of ‘my truth’, ‘our truth’ in place of ‘the (actual) truth’. OK, we all have boundaries that we set not only for ourselves, but also for others. We are protective of ourselves. Such factors will come into play along with our personal biases, including how a person looks, speaks, their manners. It becomes all too easy to slip into the self-fulfilling prophesy mode of thinking based on what we believe, especially of ‘others’ compounded by our concerns and fears. Maybe we have fears of being alone and having to trust trades people to come into our homes. A good example of being influenced by external factors is the use of trusted friends or acquaintances who can recommend the right person to do the job for you. Someone they have had in their home. So much better than the online sites where you have no idea if the people quoted are actually genuine, real people!

As we get older, and hopefully, wiser, we – again, hopefully - learn to be more discerning and look beyond superficial levels. Not always going with the broad brush sweeps of either being too trusting and always thinking the best of everyone or dismissing all out of hand without even giving any passing consideration. Neither of these is healthy. Others pick up on such traits and you can be seen as an easy touch, ripe to be taken advantage of or as someone they won’t bother with as you will already have judged them – so why should they bother? So much better to accept each person as an individual with their range of strengths and weaknesses, quirks and foibles and move on from this starting point to form your opinion.

OK, sometimes we are called upon to make a snap decision for which we need to rely on our instincts and our gut reaction. Many years ago, well before mobile phones, I was driving alone and my car broke down when I was a long way from any form of help. A man in a car pulled up – but well ahead of me and shouted from there rather than immediately invade my rather scary space. He asked if I would like him to have a look at my car – saying he knew just a bit about the goings on under the bonnet; or would I like him to go to find a phone and summon help or breakdown assistance. I took that gut-based decision to ask if he would please have a look. He did and was able to get my car going. He then said that he would follow me for just a couple of miles to ensure the car ran ok. This he did and then flashed his lights when he turned off in another direction. I was so grateful for his help and also for having taken that decision to give him the benefit of the doubt. My gut, my intuition, or maybe simply my faith that not all strangers are a threat was, on this occasion, right. Though I do find solo driving less of a concern with my mobile phone available for any emergencies.

REASONS TO GIVE SOMEONE THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT

An  article in Charter for Compassion  says  that ‘Whether you’re dealing with someone who’s going through addiction recovery or you don’t know what to make of a new friend, giving someone the benefit of the doubt can take some effort. However, most people find that it’s better to only be disappointed once in a while than to be cynical and negative all the time.’ I am not sure where I sit amongst the ‘most people’ quoted here.

One reason for giving people the benefit of the doubt could be based on those beliefs that you hold, especially any religious beliefs which may encourage looking upon others with a positive light. It is claimed in the above article that if your expectations are positive and you trust someone, those expectations can become reality for both parties. I have to say that I still need to be convinced of this. There have been times when I have ‘expected’ others to be helpful, without me actually asking them to do something, I gave them the benefit of the doubt that they wouldn’t watch an older person tackle things on their own. I have led by example yet they have simply let me get on with being that helpful doer without joining in, even though I have opened the proverbial door for them. I felt increasingly taken for granted. This didn’t lead to me forgiving these others OR myself as suggested in the article, maybe a case of needing to do a bit more self-reflection on forgiveness!

The article suggests using a strategy called perspective-taking. In theory, this leads to consideration of factors previously unknown by you, that may have affected their actions and decisions. An attempt to gain a more empathic understanding which may make it easier to go down the road of giving the benefit of the doubt. I can see the advantages to this approach, so long as you have the ability to gain that extra insight rather than simply assuming that there are reasons that are not known to you. This, I feel, may tend to lead to you simply making unsubstantiated excuses on their behalf.

SO WHERE DO YOU STAND?

I quote from the same article - ‘When you give people the benefit of the doubt, you end up learning a lot about yourself while making their life a little easier. You may not meet fewer bad people in your life, but you will get to know more great people.’  I wonder, do you feel that is how you work, or would like to work?

For me, it is important to ensure that I am able to recognise when giving the benefit of the doubt is warranted and when it equates to being seen as gullible, a pushover, someone who is taken for granted and will always step up to the plate and get things done. Whilst guided by past experiences, it is a positive step not to always expect the worst of people and respond instinctively to this.

To give or not to give a second chance? To heed or not to heed alarm bells in your head? To listen or not to listen to words from others? The decision making can be a bit of a juggling act until you have worked on honing your skills and reaching a balance which sits well with you for each individual person or happening.

Don’t forget that nobody is perfect and chances are that you won’t get it right every time. Maybe another part of yourself on which you need to spend some time reflecting? Alternatively, something that could be talked through, over a coffee or glass of wine, with a well trusted friend.

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