Monthly Wellness Corner - November 2023

November 1, 2023

The Power of Giving People the Benefit of the Doubt

Imagine our world if we were able to give others the benefit of the doubt. Giving someone “the benefit of the doubt” means you don’t really know what the other person’s intent is, and you decide to assume that is its favorable. Studies show people who view the behaviors of others in a positive light are happier! Read the following article to learn more about the power of Giving People the Benefit of the Doubt.

The Power of Giving People the Benefit of the Doubt: 5 ways how it can alter your perception of people and society.

I’m sure we’ve been in situations where someone has made us feel hurt, undermined, or taken advantage of. We may dwell on how inconsiderate and rude their behavior was, and this leaves us bitter and disappointed. As a result, our perception of people becomes darker and bleaker than it was yesterday.

One method that’s helped me break out of this mindset is giving people the benefit of the doubt.

To give someone the benefit of the doubt is choosing to believe that their intentions are honest. It means to not assume malice when there is uncertainty surrounding the circumstances.

By giving people the benefit of the doubt, my mindset and behaviors toward people shifted in the following 5 ways:
  1. I became more open-minded.
  2. I became more empathetic.
  3. I stopped sweating the little things.
  4. I focused on what I can control.
  5. I became more willing to help others.
Below you’ll find a deeper dive on how these items made a positive impact to my life, and I hope it can spark curiosity and insight for you.

1) You become more open-minded

When we give people the benefit of the doubt, it allows us to be curious rather than place blame. We become less prone to judge or assume the intentions of the person that’s hurt us.

By choosing to assume no malice in the person’s actions, our point of view shifts to curiosity rather than anger. We become more interested in why the incident may have occurred, and the circumstances that led to it.

Let’s say you’re out on a nice walk in the city during a lovely Saturday afternoon. You start crossing an intersection, and a cyclist whizzes right past you, missing you by a few inches. You’re not hurt, but definitely startled.

By sparking anger and placing blame, your mindset focuses on how you became the victim. You could’ve gotten hurt, and the cyclist was irresponsible for biking so close to you. So you end up carrying this frustration over the cyclist with you without a resolution.

But if you give the cyclist the benefit of the doubt, you can broaden your perspective on the situation. Once you accept it likely wasn’t the cyclist’s intention to cause you harm, you can assess the incident more from a neutral stance. Rather than becoming the victim, you become one part of a larger situation.

Maybe the cyclist had an emergency and was in a rush. Maybe he was avoiding another potential accident. Or maybe you started crossing the intersection too early.

Giving the benefit of the doubt removes the tunnel vision, and allows you to seek to understand. This also helps calm your frustration and anger that you might’ve felt initially.

2) You begin to empathize.

By giving the benefit of the doubt, we can also empathize with others around us.

Empathy is the act of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings and thoughts of another.

By broadening our thought process to think about the other person’s potential circumstance, it gives us the ability to connect with people at a deeper level because we become curious about what might’ve been going on in their minds and the context behind their actions.

By exercising empathy, people and the world we interact with become more interesting, diverse, and dynamic. People become more than meets the eye. When we reserve judgment, we’re less inclined to categorize or label people into groups. We’re less quick to define people based on our limited observations of them, and understand that there are countless ways to interpret one’s actions which may very well be different from our assumptions.

With empathy, gone are the days where we label people “good” or “bad”. Gone are the times where we think people are simple-minded beings that are binary in their actions and intentions. Instead, we’re able to peel the layers of a person’s actions and behaviors. We start to understand the complexity, interconnectedness, and systems-based society we live in, and that judging actions and situations in isolation is not a fair way to assess someone’s character. We begin to understand that judging others completely strips away the complexity and uniqueness of the individual.

If we believe that we are unique, complex, different, with our own story, challenges, and struggles, how is it fair to assume that another person doesn’t share the same level of uniqueness and complexity, with their own story, challenges and struggles? Keeping this realization at the forefront when interacting with another person, through good and the bad, breathes color and life into the world we live in.

3) You stop sweating the little things.

The more we exercise open-mindedness and empathy, we start to realize that the things we used to get frustrated over aren’t that important.

Once we understand the vast, complex, diverse nature of human beings and the society we’re connected with, we’re able to take the good and the bad more holistically through a wider lens. The less we interpret experiences in isolation, the less harmful effects inconvenient moments have on our lives because we’re able to see the bigger picture.

When we choose to:

  • believe that someone’s inconvenient actions likely wasn’t a result of malicious intent
  • try to understand their perspectives, what they might’ve gone through that caused the incident, and
  • be curious rather than judgmental,

Our minds focus less on our negative emotions, and more on the people behind the situation. As soon as we seek to first understand, our mind shifts from judgment to compassion, and allows us to lean in with curiosity as opposed to repel with resentment.

4) You focus on what you can control.

Giving the benefit of the doubt allows us to place our attention on what we can control. It takes us away from placing blame, judging, resenting, over to searching for what actions to take to improve, mitigate, or resolve the situation to a better state.

In essence, we’re able to move away from the victim mentality that often limits and restricts what we think we have control over. It shifts our mindset from “Bad things always happen to me. Why does this have to be so hard.” to “How can I make most of the circumstance I am in? What can I do to put myself in a better situation than I am right now? What’s the next step that I need to take?”

This type of thinking puts us into action vs inaction. It pushes us to move forward, problem solve, go out there to do the thing that can put us in a better position. Whereas pointing the finger at others and feeling sorry for ourselves gets us nowhere but further down the bitterness and resentment hole.

Sure, life is unfair. Bad things do happen to good people. The system does marginalize certain people over others. But not to the extent in which it handcuffs our reality and our potential to become better. And that is a belief that I carry with me to my core.

5) You become more willing to help others.

Lastly, when our mind is less focused on feeling sorry for ourselves but on empathy and assessing from a wider lens, it becomes much easier to lend a helping hand. We see others as who they are — people. Just as broken, damaged, hurt, tired, confused as we are. So we become more willing to help to make each other day a little better.

Our mindset shifts from “me against the world” where we preserve our energy and generosity like a precious resource, to a “we’re all in this together” mindset where we’re willing to work together and breathe positivity to each other, helping lift one another.

Breathing positivity has a ripple effect on the community we interact with. Once we react to a negative situation by seeking to understand, empathize, and help, it equips others to do the same the next time they are put in a negative place in their own lives. And so on. It’s a simple tool and mindset to apply, and a powerful one as well.

In Conclusion

As cliché as the phrase “give people the benefit of the doubt” may seem, the layers of positive impacts this brings goes way beyond simply looking at a situation positively. It has the power to shift our entire train of thought and perception about people and the world in which we live in. It can breathe color into our otherwise stressful and busy lives. It has the power to remove the tunnel vision which we see life through and gain clarity on the broader, complex, interconnected system we interact with.

-Caryn May, Penny Lane Centers