Benefit of the Doubt

My six-year-old grandson, Evan, was playing with Legos on the floor and was searching for a particular figure. He described it to me, so I could help him locate it, by saying that it was the one with the smiley face, not the mad face. To him, smiley face equaled, ‘happy’ and mad face equaled, ‘angry’. He wanted the happy one.

I can’t help myself. I asked him, “what do you think the mad faced Lego figure is angry about?

He stared up at me and said, “huh?”

I know it was silly of me to ask, but I wanted to see what he might say. Now I knew for sure. He ought to know better by now that I ask ‘dumb’ questions.

This little episode got me thinking. Do I gauge someone by their facial expression?

Of course, I do. If I see a person with a smiley face, I imagine they are happy. And, if I spot someone with a mad face, I’d assume they are angry. I wonder, how much of the time this is the truth?

There are no doubt a million reasons why someone is displaying one face or another. Then, there is the fact that everyone’s facial expressions change all the time. That makes it even more unlikely that I could make any accurate assumptions about what’s going on inside of them.

I recognize that what they’re experiencing is completely about them, but I also know that I let others emotional states impact me. I let their faces influence me and, if I’m not aware enough, I make some judgements about them or come to conclusions that may be totally incorrect. Once I do this, it becomes all about me.

I try to guard against this tendency by reminding myself that, even on my best days, I can’t possibly know what’s going on inside another person.

And, I ask myself whether I am prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt. To hold in my mind that they are doing the best they can under whatever circumstances they’re facing. And, to offer them whatever support I can for their journey.

I’ve come to realize how powerful it is to give someone, ‘the benefit of the doubt’ and how wonderful it is to receive the same. I sometimes think to myself, what would my life would be like if I did this more often? Or better yet, if I set this as one of my defaults, so that when I initially reacted negatively (with a mad face) to something, I stopped and told myself that there is probably a very good reason for whatever was happening, (shifting to a smiley face).

I grant you this takes practice. From my recent attempts, I’ve come to the conclusion that the practice is well worth the time and effort.

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Exercise One- Seeing Beneath the Surface

An idea came to me that it might be fun to include exercises that readers could choose to do as part of this adventure. So, I thought that maybe after every twenty posts, I’d offer you one.

I hope you like the idea.

Here’s how the first exercise goes. You can use any size paper you like. A standard notebook page will work well. Begin by turning your paper so it goes lengthwise and make five columns, labeling them as follows; Concern, Reason, Reaction, Deeper Reason, Benefit(s).

Let me explain and then share an example to get you started. I find this exercise rewarding and have made positive shifts as a result of spending some time with it.

In the first column you write down some issue or concern that is troublesome for you. This may only take a few words, but write whatever you need to define the issue.

The second column identifies the reason or reasons why the issue concerns you. You may need to list several reasons or it may be as simple as one.

In the reaction column, write down how you respond to the issue. Consider your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual reactions.

Column four is an opportunity to go deeper and explore what might be beneath the reasons you initially identified. This is often where the shifts begin, so give yourself a little extra time with this one.

Hopefully you find there are benefits that arrive from this exercise and you can note them in column five. A great focus here is to allow yourself to see what positive outcomes are created by shifting your perspective.

So, that’s the set up. Now for the example.

Although I’d like to think of myself as a pretty tolerant individual, I have to admit that when I’m driving, there are lots of things other drivers do that bother me.

So, my column one lists…slow drivers.

In order to better understand myself and find a way to deal with this ongoing problem, I have to ask myself, why does this bother me?

My answer for column two is…because it wastes my time and keeps me from getting places when I expect to get there.

And my reactions in column three are…a great deal of sighing, inner irritation, drumming on the steering wheel and maybe some inappropriate language.

There has been a great deal of predictability to this. Certainly, more than I would like. That’s why the next step is so important to me. It’s where you get a chance to open up and ask to receive clarity. For some, the asking will be internal, while others will open to the divine for support and guidance.

For me in this case, I asked Lia (the part of god that appears as the divine feminine, also known to me as Love In Action, or simply Lia).

I sat still, slowed my breathing, calmed my mind and asked Lia for help to see beneath the surface.

Here’s what appeared in column four…what came was an image I recognized immediately. It was a car accident I was in. I was sitting waiting for the traffic light to turn green and was rear-ended by a pickup truck traveling 30 mph. It never slowed down and hit me so hard it shoved me through the entire intersection.

Wow, I knew this meant something big.

Enter column five. What was the benefit in seeing this image that lived beneath the surface…I realized that when I’m in my car and on my way somewhere, I’m impatient to get there because, without consciously knowing it, I’m afraid. I want a smooth ride with no interruptions. I don’t want anyone slowing me down and preventing me from getting to where I’m going. And, I don’t want to be in another accident. I want to be safe.

The benefit of seeing at this depth is that I can modify my behavior and reactions. When I get in the car I can tell myself to relax, take my time, enjoy the scenery, be patient, and realize I am loved and cared for.

Sometimes it takes a while before I can see beneath the surface, but, I’ve found it is always time well spent.

I’d love to hear what happens for you, if you decide to try this.

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