102: Giving the Benefit of the Doubt

In this episode John and Gregg go further with offering the benefit of the doubt: the idea of viewing others as generally “doing their best” in a given situation. John is hesitant about commenting on the experience of Gregg’s father and brother being killed (this discussion last focused, and which raised some doubts for John), but Gregg demurs: in his view, no experience or human understanding is “sacred” or beyond question / criticism.

John raises two type of situations. First, everyday situations such as friction within a dialogue among coworkers. In this case John realized that by assuming that his co-worker was doing his best at that time would greatly ease the tension and frustartion that John felt at the time. Next, John raises situations which we might categorize as “evil.”

Gregg’s view is that people are responsible for their actions, and sometimes assuming that someone is “doing their best” when acting in a way that we find problematic or hurtful can inadvertently carry with it the idea that they are less responsible for those actions as a result. A further criterion for Gregg is that that person, even if s/he doesn’t recognize a particular action on their part as problematic or hurtful for someone else, must be nevertheless be willing to value others as another being. If they are unable or unwilling generally to maintain this attitude toward others, then in Gregg’s view the idea of “doing their best” just doesn’t make sense.

John notes that, for him, giving the benefit of the doubt is a starting point and is also the best way to be able to “let go” of your frustration in situations where you will never have enough information fully to understand what happened or why.

Yet Gregg notes that in evangelical Christianity this inclination can be taken too far. This is so because a) Christians typically do not deal well with conflict, b) they believe that they are always meant to be ‘nice’, and c) Christians often misunderstand: when people act in ways that are detrimental / hurtful to others it behooves us to bring this to their attention—this is a way of loving others.

Gregg next suggests that perhaps we need to balance a focus on the other (and believing that s/he is “doing their best”) with a focus on oneself (by honouring situations where one needs to address the other party, even if resolution or even recognition seems unlikely). In other words, in certain situations for Gregg to value himself he needs to express his view / response to the other party, and similarly stating the impact of certain actions to another party may help that person identify a habit or attitude that they were unaware of, or whose impact they did not know.

So to Gregg’s mind, part of loving one’s neighbour is being willing to communicate about some of the rough edges where you and your neighbour connect.

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