“The Benefit of the Doubt”
I believe in giving others the benefit of the doubt. This is probably a result of the number of times I have wished it was given to me.
When first learning to drive, I made a lot of mistakes. It took me a while to learn things like how much space to keep between other cars and myself and when to use my blinker. Sometimes, I accidentally cut people off, or overcompensated on a turn and swerved a little bit. Then, when I got my first stick shift, I would often stall out at stop lights, meaning that I would need to restart my truck before I could continue through the light, causing a delay of a few seconds and a lot of angry drivers.
Some people would retaliate for my causing these minor hassles by honking their horn, giving obscene hand gestures, flashing their high-beams, or even tailgating me.
When I made a mistake I would apologize profusely in my car, though no one else could hear me. Other drivers reacted under the assumption that I was being a jerk, because they didn’t know that my intentions were not to inconvenience them.
I can understand where they were coming from. I get irritated at little things too: when another car steals the spot I was eyeing in the parking lot right from under my nose; when someone bumps me off the edge of the sidewalk and doesn’t even acknowledge it; when it takes an hour after ordering to be served at a restaurant. But how do I know that the person in the car in the parking really just didn’t see me (and was utterly unaware that I was heading for that particular spot)? Or that the lady on the street isn’t in hurry to get home to a sick child and that her mind isn’t already there, and not on less important details such as the people around her? Or that the waitress at the restaurant hasn’t been working a double shift, and waiting more than her usual share of tables?
The answer is that I don’t, just like the people in the cars around me didn’t know that I was only doing the best I could as I was learning. Being on the receiving end of angry reactions taught me not to jump to conclusions about others if I don’t know their situations. So I don’t get angry when people cut in front of me in traffic, forgive the guy who steps on my foot without an apology, and don’t make a fuss if the waitress doesn’t get my order exactly right.
So if I’m stuck trudging along behind you while you drive 30 miles per hour where the speed limit is 50, don’t worry about it. I won’t curse you, tailgate you or lean on my horn until you pull over in frustration, because maybe, just maybe, you have a really good reason for doing so.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.