Hello, HaQ readers! I’m in a contemplative mood today, so I thought I’d share something I’ve been thinking about for a while. It struck me one morning that the one benefit that we all can afford to extend to another is the benefit of the doubt. Yeah. Not exactly common in election season, I know.
What brought it up for me wasn’t politics, but something entirely commonplace: I’d seen my neighbor walking back and forth on the road in front of the house several times, going about her daily tasks. What I found odd was that she never looked up or looked around for me to wave. That seemed very strange. I didn’t really focus on it, but it sat in the back of my mind and I wondered what was going on; usually she does wave or call out a greeting when I’m out with my dogs. We’re fence-post friendly; we’ll chat when we meet, call when some neighborhood business comes up, and wave when we’re both out in the yards. So for her not to say hello was odd
That thought came back to me when she walked by again later carrying some dried teasel stems. This time she did come up to chat for a moment and we talked about hill-holding groundcover and the greenery on one of my shrubs. And then she told me that she’d been suffering from vertigo, that it was a trial, and she was trying hard to get over it. She couldn’t turn her head suddenly because it caused profound dizziness. Hence, the stiff walk and not looking around. Mysterious “snub” explained.
It reminded me that we never know what burden another person is carrying. Those burdens may have nothing to do with anyone else; it’s just what has come to them right now. I’m not good at remembering that. I can obsess over a brusque interaction, wondering what I did that caused the other person to appear angry or disgusted or uninterested or judgmental. I assume that because they seem unhappy about something, that I am the cause. I don’t know whether this is self-blame, self-judgment, or just plain silliness. I don’t have a particularly exaggerated idea of my influence over other people – why would I think that their moods only depend on whatever I’ve been doing, which usually has nothing to do with them? If a perfect stranger acted that way, would I think I’d done something? The answer is … perhaps. Maybe they know something I don’t know.
So the real question is, having no recollection of any ill will or action, why would I feel I could be the cause? These feelings come up when I am lonely, when I feel judged, when I sense someone I like pulling away. It’s hard to remember that there’s a lot more going on in everyone’s lives than the twenty seconds it takes to pass me in a hallway. And, unlike the moon, I am not able to tug on every ocean at once.
It might be good for me to remember something a colleague told me once. We were part of a faculty group, all working on our own projects in protected time away from other responsibilities. She told me she wasn’t sure I liked writing because I looked “mad” while I was working. I wasn’t mad and I love writing. I had no idea what my face looked like to others – I wasn’t thinking about it. I was intently focused and trying to get clarity on the project I was working on. Focus can look like displeasure. Preoccupation can look like a snub. Worry can look like impatience. Fear can look like fury. You don’t really know what’s on someone else’s mind.
Unless you ask. And I can’t even write that without a jolt of fear. Because what if it was my fault? The real likelihood is that it was not. And the antidote to confusion is curiosity. Curiosity allows you to leave the preconception behind and just ask what’s going on. Imagine being released from all that angst so easily. Because most of the time, what you will learn is that what looked negative had nothing to do with you. And if, by chance, there was something you could fix – well, wouldn’t you want to, so everyone could move on? What if every potentially negative thing was met with curiosity and a spirit of generosity? That would truly be a benefit of doubt.
Something to think about.
Stay tuned for more on the Here’s a Quarter blog next week! As always, your thoughts and comments are always welcome – they are moderated (I know – adulting again), so they may take a little while to appear, but I read them all and appreciate that you were here. Thank you!