The phrase “benefit of the doubt” (BOTD) is a legal term. It refers to giving someone favorable judgement in the absence of all the evidence.
Since I see you, the readers, as my collective therapists, I will confess to you that I’m not good at BOTD. I’m much better at the D part but not the B part. In other words, I’m a J, or judgmentalist. And I’m very good at being a negative J. I’m like a professional negativejudgmentalist.
I don’t like being this way but I can’t seem stop it when I’m in negativejudgmental mode. And most times, I’m proved wrong when I get all of the evidence. You’d think that would make me more open minded but alas, my negativejudgmentalness seems to be as quick and as deeply ingrained as my anti-snake reflex.
A couple of weeks ago, I was waiting to board a flight in Houston. My feet were firmly planted against the legs of my seat so that I could get more leverage for a quick start when they called my flight. These days, it’s all about getting the overhead space, right?
Nearby, I could hear a very loud young woman talking to herself or to anyone in the immediate vicinity (and by immediate, I mean anyone within 100 feet). But I couldn’t understand a word she was saying. Therefore, my initial negativejudgmental suspicion was that she was either drunk, foreign born, or speaking in tongues. I ruled out the last one since the chances of a profound religious experience at Gate A37 in the Houston airport were pretty slim. However, when someone in an airport is loud and hard to understand, it seems that drunk or foreign born (in our country or another) is a common scenario.
Turns out, this young woman had been bumped from her flight, due to an “oversold situation.” If you’re not familiar with that term, the airlines use it to mean “We got greedy and sold more tickets than we had seats and now one of you has to suffer because of our error. And by the way, we use the word ‘situation’ because it makes it sound like we’re just as surprised as you are.”
The young woman was crying and was pleading with the ticket agent to put her back on the flight.
Then, she said, “I can’t miss my flight because I’m special (long pause)…I was in a car accident.”
Cue the swinging of a two-by-four into my head.
Clearly, this young woman was not drunk. Clearly, she was not foreign born. Clearly I was once again a negativejudgmental idiot.
She had experienced some sort of brain trauma that had affected her behavior, her speech, and most likely made it more difficult for her to cope with this “oversold situation.”
That’s when BOTD would have come in handy.
BOTD is one of the most powerful principles we can practice in everyday life. If we are slow to judge and quick to BOTD, we are more understanding, more compassionate, and possess less of the toxic negativejudgmentalism that can affect our relationships.
Unfortunately, we live in a world where judging has become second nature. Just look at the comments on blogs, news sites, and social media. People judge all the time and some do it with a great deal of anger as if throwing verbal darts at others improves their lives or the lives of the recipients.
BOTD is the better way to go. Take time to understand. Show a little compassion. Give ’em a break.
After 52 years, you’d think that I’d know the power of BOTD and practice it more diligently. But just like all of my principles in Do it Well, Make it Fun suggest, life is a work in progress. We can always improve (and by we, I especially mean me).
The young woman in the airport was my reminder to Do it Better next time. I’m grateful for the encounter.
BOTD. It’s AOK.