Skip to main content

Give the Benefit of the Doubt

 Do you know what it means to give the benefit of the doubt? A dictionary definition puts it like this: "Regard someone as innocent until proven otherwise; to lean toward a favorable view of someone." ( In other words, it means that we won't jump to conclusions. We'll wait to consider the whole matter before making hasty judgments. "He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him." (Proverbs 18:13)

Having a reputation for being a type of "Quick Draw McGraw" in handling matters is not a badge of honor; it's a mark of a lack temperance.

My Mom and I were almost the victims of road rage earlier this year, and it was all because a man jumped to conclusions rather than giving us the benefit of the doubt.

We were headed home from our Tuesday outing when I merged into the right lane not far from Mom's townhome complex. A man in a pickup truck was behind us, merging at the same time. He honked his horn, changed lanes, tore around us and merged in front of us."What's his deal?" I said to Mom as we watched this with wonder. I was ready to give this guy a ticket, but I'm not the State Patrol. Bummer.

This caused my Mom to repeat her conviction that too many drivers today are extremely impatient, making driving much more hazardous. We continued on our short drive, noticing that Mr. Truck was still in front of us, and driving more slowly now. He took a right turn at the stop sign.

So did we.

By this point, I could see that Mr. Truck was watching us in his rearview mirror, so I said to Mom, "I'll bet he thinks we're tailing him." We both chuckled in that sort of "serves him right" tone, but then he took another right turn, into the same townhome complex where my Mom lives.

Oh oh. Now what?

We took a right turn. After all, it was the main entryway leading to Mom's townhome. Now Mr. Truck slammed on his brakes, put the truck in park, jumped out and marched straight towards our car with a really unfriendly (meaner than a junkyard dog) look on his great big face. Did I mention that he was built like a truck?

At this point I figured that we could get hurt, but putting the car into reverse and screeching backwards out of the driveway didn't seem wise, either. These kinds of events require split-second processing, but I'm not that fast. So, my knee-jerk reaction was to call God. Yes. He was with us anyway, so I thought I may as well turn the matter over to Him.

I had a simple three-word urgent prayer: "Lord, help us." My God is bigger than Mr. Truck, and He could see the whole event like a movie, so while I was uncomfortable, I wasn't afraid. My Mom, on the other hand, well, she looked like she wanted me to run him over with the car. That was okay for the moment, because it was a rather intimidating glare that she was wearing on that normally tranquil face. As Mr. Truck approached (and I didn't see a gun), I rolled down my window and said with my biggest, baddest "I'm the Momma" voice:

"Sir, my Mom lives here. Is there a reason why you're blocking the driveway?"

This caused him to sputter and hesitate a moment. Obviously, it had never occurred to him that we weren't following him! He assumed that two women, one in her fifties and one in her seventies, were tailing him to do who knows what! Amazing how minds work...or don't work.

"Well, I thought you were following me, and so I was just coming back here to see what your problem was. You cut me off way back there, and I thought you were going to make trouble."

We "cut him off," so now what we were going to do? Tail him, rear-end his truck, jump out like Bonnie and Clementine (didn't have a Clyde in the car), and make a YouTube video of two women pounding on a great big gorilla of a man with our purses as weapons?

I know that some people are out of control these days, and I'm fully aware that taking two right turns behind the same person may have looked too coincidental (even if we were only two blocks from home), but maybe if this man had given us the benefit of the doubt in the first place, way back at the point where the lanes merged, he wouldn't be standing beside my car door now, looking for a fight. Mr. Truck jumped to two conclusions: That we meant to cut him off in the merge lane, and that we were following him now with bad intentions.

Do you jump to conclusions? It's a bad exercise.

A better habit is to give people the benefit of the doubt. "Innocent until proven guilty" is a wise policy. When we slow down in our interactions with others, we'll often find that what we thought was intentionally harmful was actually just accidental. This is true of most things that turn us inside out. Not everyone is "out to get us," but we can imagine that they are, which then boxes us into some really negative thinking.

The next time someone crosses you, instead of immediately assuming that they meant it for evil, pause and ask yourself this question: Is it possible that they did that or said that without thinking of how it would look or sound?

Handle matters wisely: Give people the benefit of the doubt. "He that handleth a matter wisely shall find good: and whoso trusteth in the Lord, happy is he." (Proverbs 16:20) By giving the benefit of the doubt, we're allowing room for the truth to reveal itself over time. If the offense was intentional, God knows and can handle it. Vengeance is God's territory: "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord." If the offense was an innocent mistake, God also knows, and will use the benefit of the doubt to help preserve our relationships.

Did someone merge into your life's lane a little too close for comfort? The next time this happens, give them the benefit of the doubt. It's a much more peaceable way to live.

"The discretion of a man deferreth his anger; and it is his glory to pass over a transgression." 
(Proverbs 19:11)


Popular posts from this blog

Parents Are Not Responsible for That

Parenthood is not a role for wimps or whiners. There are the exciting times such as music recitals, sports tournaments, and graduations. But if your tribe is like ours, you've probably also had the maddening moments, like the time one of our children discovered how to unfasten the tapes on his diaper and used the contents as "chalk" on the bedroom  wall (yes, it was "his," so that narrows the field of suspects). Children are young for a few blinks, and then we spin around and we're hearing "Pomp and Circumstance," that familiar graduation march as our "babies" walk down the aisle in cap and gown. If they choose to go on to college, four snaps later, we're sitting in the auditorium at their college graduation, scanning a long list of names in the commencement bulletin while waiting to watch them walk across the platform to receive yet another diploma. It's warp-speed fast (except that diaper stage). Parents don't min

What Just Happened?

I find myself praying in questions lately. "Lord, what just happened here?" (This time last month, we were walking a sandy beach in Florida, calling it our "last anniversary vacation.") "Did you REALLY take my Norman ALREADY ?" (I spent way too much time on Google, and all the articles said that Norman had a chance of surviving at least a year.) " LORD , are you SURE I can endure all this excruciating pain?" (I'm certain that I cannot bear this, but obviously, if I'm typing, I'm still bearing this somehow. Only God.) The last anniversary vacation Now here's what I do not want after you've read this: platitudes. Absolutely no platitudes. (Platitude: Overused statement applied liberally and repeatedly in an attempt to comfort or instruct. Paraphrased definition.) Example: "Heaven is getting sweeter." I understand that this is a phrase from a song, and it is not offensive in any way. It j


Sitting at what I was sure was the world's longest left-turn signal, I suddenly realized that I was being impatient for no good reason. After all, I was only waiting to turn left and then right...into the gas station. Not exactly like being late for an important date! Wait hate. Many of us struggle with it, and the impatience is making life unnecessarily miserable. Why do we hate to wait? I have some theories and good guesses, but it is possible that one of the biggest reasons why we can't even tolerate driving in a lane with a slow car in front of us is because we've been trained by our culture to expect everything instantly. Have you ever been "that person," driving and yelling "Move over, Pokey Joe!" even though your windows were closed and that other driver couldn't hear you? Tap. Swipe. Send.  Wait-Hate is learned, and this impatience is very costly. Instead of praying and allowing God time to provide direction and confirm