Benefit of the Doubt

I was driving home from work, and I use the term ‘driving’ loosely as my usual 40-minute commute stretched into a Friday night 3-hour parking lot version of itself. (Speaking of which, is the irony of the term ‘rush-hour’ lost on anyone else?) Today was especially exasperating as my sore throat, earache and sinus pressure blossomed into the sledge hammer, head pounding promise of my impending migraine. I sat inching forward wallowing in my well deserved pitty-party, when a fancy little BMW shot up the right side lane. You know the one. The one car that flies up the exit lane like it is on the short track at Nascar and seems to think that, for whatever reason, they don’t have to wait their turn and merge like the rest of the hundreds of cars filled with equally worthy commuters. I find myself particularly judgmental if the offending vehicle is expensive…because then, obviously, I can assume that the inconsiderate driver leads a life of leisure and entitlement (probably management *grin*) and has no consideration for the rest of the 99% of us working types.

As the sleek little black BMW wedge indelicately in front of my bumper I was left with the choice of hitting him just on principle or being forced to a stop. Swallowing down the saliva that felt like shards of broken glass in my throat, I stopped for this rude intruder awaiting the justified swelling of irritation and profanity that would no doubt skip the regulatory nature of my brain and fall out of my mouth unfiltered.

Surprisingly there was nothing. Maybe the fog in my head made me incapable of yelling profanity at my own steering wheel like it was a direct intercom to the next vehicle so they could hear what an ass they were being, or my weakened state prevented the forceful release of the two-handed shaking at the windshield double-bird that this situation deserved.  Instead there was a pause…and then it came…

The benefit of the doubt.

So often we think the worst of people. We catch them in this one moment of the worst version of themselves and that is what we label them.

“You, sir, are an asshole.” And maybe that is true. Maybe right now, at this moment in time, or this time in their life, they ARE an asshole, but does this one moment have to define them? And, possibly more importantly, how does that serve you?

You get to feel angry, and frustrated, and mad…you get to vent hostilities at strangers for their bad behaviors, or think how the world is full of stupid people…but does that enrich your life?

In fact it does not. There was a time when anger allowed us to fight off the tiger or run for our cave, but in todays age anger comes with a physiological response that is detrimental to a healthy immune system and long-term wellbeing.  Studies have also shown that the expression of anger does not actually make individuals ‘feel better’ as once believed. Instead it perpetuates and proliferates. The more frequently you entertain and express your outrage or frustration the more you cement solid neuro-pathways. You become quicker and more proficient at accessing those emotions and they become more predominant in your life.  With the successful instillation of some simple anger, frustration, and judgmental pathways now you can rejoice in being a quick-draw anger professional (i.e. an asshole)…a skill that goes everywhere with you…to work, in your relationship, with your children, in your life…you become quicker to frustration and anger, AND you become more focused on the things people and your loved ones do to anger you. Not only do you see red, but you start seeing it all the time.

What would it be like to choose a different path? To create different neuro-pathways? What would it feel like to work at being the best version of yourself?

You have the power to change your programming. Every single time you choose not to entertain negativity and instead replace it with the possibility of positivity you create a new path, a new filter, and a new way of approaching challenging situations.


Try this: Make it a game—become a storyteller. When you find that you are getting angry or frustrated, make up a story about what would make someone behave that way and what could possibly be going on in which you would excuse, or at least understand that indiscretion.  The more detailed your story the more your mind will want to follow it and the more you will start to believe the best in people and give them the benefit of the doubt.

It can start out simple if you aren’t that mad…’oh, they cut me off because they must be late for work. Thats ok, I guess.’

and it can get more detailed as you find yourself really angry…’oh, they cut me off because they are rushing to the vet with Scrappy who was just hit by a car, and they must be distracted trying to think how to break the news to Timmy who loves Scrappy like a brother, and they must be calling their boss to tell them they won’t be in today, and texting their husband to see if he can pick Timmy up from school’ and that is why they are on their phone swerving all over the place’…and so on until you reach the point where you feel compassionate and think, ‘ok…cut me off if you must. Good luck with everything.’

It can be done, and in fact, it can be fun.