It’s time we climbed up a few rungs on our empathetic ladder and learned how to give people the benefit of the doubt. How to concede that, maybe, somebody might be justified in their action.
Napoleon famously said that we should never to ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.
But why stop there? People are motivated for a thousand reasons that aren’t malicious. Everything from busyness to confusion to hunger to stress to not enough sleep last night to a pigeon shitting on their sunroof.
Here are a few ways to think about it.
We most likely lack full context on people, and so, we may as well assume the best of them.
Everyone is fighting some battle that we know nothing about, and so, we may as well let them carry the flag of motivational innocence.
There is a bewildering diversity of apparent motivates that drive human beings, and so, we may as well assume that people are just doing their best trying to pursue their wellbeing.
Besides, what’s the alternative to empathy? Resenting people for being who they are? Trying to change them into being more like us? Angrily assuming negative intent like they’re out to get us?
All of those paths lead to nowhere. Goethe also had a theory about this:
Misunderstandings and neglect occasion more mischief in the world than even malice and wickedness, and at all events, the two latter are of less frequent occurrence.
My guest service training manager shared that very quotation with me during orientation, and it always stuck in my mind. Because even at luxury hotel, she told us, any given guest might be having the worst day of their lives. And while our concessions cost the organization next to nothing, the kindness and generously to that flustered guest could change everything.
If someone’s behavior is baffling you, give them some emotional oxygen by giving them the benefit of the doubt.
LET ME SUGGEST THIS…
Do you treat people as complex animals dealing with their own issues, or side characters in your story?