“Imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we’re all in this together.” ~ Brené Brown
My friend and I were recently driving on the freeway when a silver Jetta swerved around us, cut us off, and then sped away. As an overly cautious driver, my friend was frustrated and even angered by that person’s recklessness. After a moment, she said, “Maybe he’s running late for a job interview. Or maybe…he’s rushing to the hospital because his wife is in labor!” And just like that, her anger and frustration melted away as we came up with a million ways why this gentleman was, indeed, justified for driving so carelessly.
Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston who has spent more than a decade studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity and shame. In her book, Rising Strong, she walks readers through her research and presents the refreshing idea that people are simply doing the best they can. The above is just one example of assuming others are doing their best. It means defaulting to the belief that someone’s intentions are honest, and not assume malice when there is uncertainty or doubt surrounding the circumstances. It means regarding someone as innocent until proven otherwise; retaining a favorable, or neutral, opinion of someone or something until the full information about the subject is available. In short, assuming everyone is doing the best they can is a benevolent way of looking at an often cynical world.
It is not always easy to believe that everyone is doing their best, but the fact is that you and I rarely have the full picture. I was recently frustrated with a relative that never called me back, but when we finally spoke I learned that she had recently lost her job and was simultaneously going through an unexpected divorce. Similarly, I have a friend who bailed last minute on a BBQ a few weeks ago and I later found out his wife had been freshly diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer. They were in the hospital undergoing an invasive surgery when he texted me. In both of these scenarios, knowing a few more details completely changed my outlook! You and I rarely have the full picture. We do not know what is really going on in other people’s lives. We need to just trust that everyone is doing the best they can! And even if they are not doing their best…I would much rather extend the benefit of the doubt and be disappointed every once in awhile than live with a cynical outlook of others!
What does this have to do with self-care? Everything! Last year I wrote about self-talk, and I shared the power of self-talk–for better or for worse. You and I constantly have dialogue going in our minds, and the way we perceive others and the world deeply affects our reality, how we see others, and even ourselves. Here is why assuming others are doing their best is a great form of self-care:
- Assuming others are doing their best helps us see the good in them (and ourselves). You see what you are looking for. If you expect someone to be flakey, aloof, selfish, etc, you will find ample evidence of those traits. However, if you choose to trust they are doing their best, you will avoid self-fulfilling prophecies by seeing the good in others. When you extend the benefit of the doubt like my friend did, as we were driving, your heart will be softened. Instead of seeing the negative, we will see the good in others as well as their strengths. This will completely change your outlook and will help you be more understanding, empathetic and kind…even to ourselves.
- Assuming others are doing their best teaches you how to forgive yourself and others. If you work long enough at giving the benefit of the doubt to others, you will soon find that it is easier to extend it to yourself. If you make a mistake at work or burn the dinner in the oven, you will talk gentler to yourself because you know you are simply doing your best! Instead of getting offended at someone’s unkind words, you can forgive their thoughtlessness and move on, instead of being stuck in painful feelings.
Everyone is doing their best. Everyone is living their lives the best they know how. And when you believe that, you see the good in others, in the world, and in yourself. There is so much good in the world! So next time you are tempted to think something negative about someone, practice giving the benefit of the doubt. Assume he or she is trying his/her best and you will be surprised how positively (and immediately!) it will affect your life. As always, should you have questions or be interested in scheduling a session, please do not hesitate to contact me today.
Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.
- Cluff Counseling: “The Positive Influence of Affirmations”
- Collins, Hannah R: “WHAT IF EVERYONE IS JUST DOING THEIR BEST?”
- The Emotion Machine: “3 Reasons to Give People the Benefit of the Doubt”
- The Free Dictionary: “Give the Benefit of the Doubt”
- Goodreads: “Benefit of the Doubt Quotes”
- Huffington Post: “When Should You Give Someone ‘The Benefit of the Doubt’?”
- Urban Dictionary: “Benefit of the Doubt”