What If We Gave Them the Benefit of the Doubt?

What If We Gave Them the Benefit of the Doubt?

A couple of months ago, our oldest daughter spilled half a bag of frozen fruit on the kitchen floor. Eight dollars worth of fruit covered in dog hair.

My initial reaction was anger.

It seemed like she was sneaking fruit while the rest of us were working to put away groceries, clean out the car and get settled after a morning of running errands, and the mess was a direct result of that choice.

But as I sent her to her room in tears, I heard a still, small voice asking me to take a second look at the situation.

In reality, she wasn’t trying to sneak the fruit, and she certainly didn’t mean to spill it everywhere. She was simply acting impulsively – like a child — because she was so excited that we’d gotten a new mix of fruit (mangoes, pineapples and strawberries…mmm!) and she couldn’t wait to try it.

The spill was an accident, plain and simple.

Our default as human beings (or at least mine) may be to assume the worst as we interact with the people around us — loved ones and strangers alike — but what if we chose to give them the benefit of the doubt instead?

Our Children

I don’t know about your children, but my children do not spend the majority of their days trying to be willfully disobedient (although they all definitely have their moments!). Instead, they explore, make impulsive decisions, react out of hurt, frustration and loneliness, or act like, well, children.

What if I took the time to understand their motives before I reacted?

When something gets spilled or broken, is it because they were trying to make a mess or because they overestimated their abilities? When they hurt someone, is it because they were trying to hurt them or just because they got a little rough, weren’t paying enough attention or didn’t realize their words were hurtful? When they’re whining or crying over every little thing, what do they really need — food, sleep, a hug?

If I want them to extend grace to one another in these situations, I have to model it first. And not everything needs to be a discipline issue.

The real question, for me, is how often do I make a mess, break something or hurt someone for the exact same reasons? It’s unfair to hold them to higher standards than I hold myself, and if I want understanding when I mess up, I should offer my children the same.

"Our default as human beings may be to assume the worst as we interact with the people around us -- loved ones and strangers alike -- but what if we chose to give them the benefit of the doubt instead?"

Our Friends and Spouses

How often do we react with hurt to the actions or words of someone we love when truly they don’t mean to hurt us?

I love when my husband points out that what I really am is hangry (hungry + angry) when I start snapping, not only because it feels good to be known but also because it helps me deal with those feelings by zipping my lips until I can get food in them!

Similarly, when a friend or family member makes an off-the-cuff remark that hurts us, our reaction really should depend on their motive. While boundaries in relationships are important and we should protect ourselves if there is a clear pattern of behavior, it’s important to differentiate between those situations and the ones where the other person truly had the best intentions.

If we’re automatically assuming the worst of other people in every situation, our relationships will never be built on trust, respect and love.

Strangers

It always perplexes me when people with many children talk about all of the negative comments they get when they’re out with their children; I truly cannot think of one time that has happened to us, and it’s not because we’re anything special.

While I’m sure there are unhappy people out there who really are trying to be hurtful, I don’t think that’s the case in most circumstances.

For us, when someone shakes their head and says, “Wow, you really have your hands full!” I choose to see that as a compliment instead. {And honestly? I do kinda have my hands full. Thanks for noticing!} When they laugh and jokingly ask, “Don’t you know how THAT happens?” while pointing at our new baby, I choose to see it as friendly banter from someone looking for a little connection in the midst of a busy world. And while I was prepared to be annoyed by the “Oh, you finally got your boy!” comments, we’re all so smitten with him that I can’t help but laugh and say, “Yes. Yes, we did!”

I could choose to see those comments as nasty or nosy or negative, but I choose not to, and honestly that’s a lot more fun!

What If We Gave Them the Benefit of the Doubt?

On the Internet

And finally, this rule could change the internet as we know it if we’d simply follow it.

Nowhere on earth do people feel the freedom to judge and respond harshly like they do via the anonymity of the internet, but rather than responding with nastiness to the perceived faults of various writers, bloggers and commenters, what if we took the time to consider them as real, live human beings first?

What if, instead of reacting to differences in our opinions and belief systems, we compared the similarities and gave other people the benefit of the doubt as intelligent, loving people who simply have different opinions and viewpoints?

You know what would happen? It would open the door for actual productive dialogue where we were trying to understand and appreciate each other’s perspectives rather than summarily dismissing them and ruining any opportunity for connection!

Do you struggle with this like I do? Who could you give the benefit of the doubt today?

Mandi Ehman is the blogger behind Life Your Way. She and her husband have four beautiful girls plus one baby boy, and together they live, work and homeschool on a little slice of heaven in wild, wonderful West Virginia. Mandi loves coffee, chocolate, easy meals, beautiful things and minimalist spaces.
  • Amy

    It bugs me when people would ask if I knew “how that happens” in reference to my many children. It obviously refers to private stuff, they are also probably doing the thing that makes babies, and it insinuates that my kids were conceived in ignorance. I know it’s not meant to be rude, just something to say. Now I just tell them: perfect timing and a miracle.

    • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

      So (and please know I’m asking this sincerely and not at all snarkily)…if you know they’re not being rude, why let it bug you? Do you really think they’re thinking about your sex life or suggesting your kids were conceived in ignorance? Or is it just “the thing” people say? I guess my thinking is that letting it bug you hurts you more than them AND misses out on the chance for human connection, even for a brief moment.

      But either way, I love your response! :)

      • Amy

        I know, you’re right, and it’s silly. I’m working on it but that’s always my gut reaction, which I hide. I’m never unfriendly about it; I always smile because I know it’s just something people say and not with bad intentions. It just embarrasses me because it sounds crude and surprises me every time, even though I hear it a LOT.

        • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

          ♥ Thanks for taking my comment the way I intended it even though I was “argumentative”. And I think that’s the best any of us can do — fake it till we make it when our first reaction isn’t the one we necessarily want to have!

  • DDD

    did your bag of frozen fruit cost 16 dollars? I was thinking if it was frozen fruit it could have probably been rinsed off & eaten anyway!?! my husband use to say – think I have the best intentions when I say & do things…he has had to learn that too. we are still learning. hah!

    • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

      It did; it was a big ol’ bag. I probably could have rinsed it off (and probably should have!), but the floor was shamefully dirty (we have a big, hairy dog), and it just seemed so gross to me!

      • Shannon S.

        LOL hairy fruit.. I am with you!

  • Sarah Vitsas

    Your post couldn’t have come at a better time – looking at the many times I have recently yelled at my son, they are over things that are probably because he is just a child. It was a timely reminder to extend grace to my children and myself. Thankyou!

  • http://myoverflowingcup.com Heather @ My Overflowing Cup

    This is such an great reminder. I think the way I remember to give others the benefit of the doubt is that I pray to see them the way Jesus sees them. This isn’t always as easy said than done. Thanks for this post! Pinning it now.

  • Maria

    Hi! I love your writing and I love your honesty. I just want to add that I probably would have rinsed the fruit, too. I’d have eaten it myself or rinsed it and saved it in the freezer for small snacks for my dogs (as long as it wasn’t grapes or anything harmful).

  • Kacey

    Another great week of blog posts. Thanks for sharing these topics with us. It’s been a great opportunity to rethink how I respond to different situations.

  • Marcia @OrganisingQueen.com

    What a lovely post and a great reminder that our kids are not badly intentioned. I had a few moments on Sunday morning but my son (extrovert) shouted out, “I was just trying to tidy up” and that stopped me in my tracks. So true! I need to take care to look for that with the introvert though.

  • Melissa Sette Lake

    I am guilty of being “Hangry!” thanks for defining it! another great blog to remind me to step back and think about why my kids are doing/acting the way they are.

  • Lisa Luken

    Great post, Mandi! Your words were exactly what I needed to read today!

  • Nicole Nenninger

    I find I have the opposite “problem” most of the time–I give people the benefit of the doubt and my naivete ends up getting the best of me in some of these situations.