Benefit of the Doubt

The Benefit of the Doubt

Giving people the benefit of the doubt is one of my basic tenets for living. You might call it “look for the best in people” or “assume good intent.” It’s yoga in action. Someone is rude, someone cuts you off in traffic, someone takes the last cookie…I try to put myself in their shoes and say, “Okay, he’s dealing with a sick parent and a misbehaving child and he didn’t even get coffee this morning. Okay, she really just needed to change lanes; that’s happened to me before when I suddenly realized where I needed to turn. Okay, he doesn’t know I like cookies.”

This is more for me than for them. Giving the benefit of the doubt keeps me calm, keeps me from getting angry. It inspires compassion and love.

And today I’m getting a chance to practice this with someone who didn’t practice it with me.

Yesterday, there was a box on my doorstep from UPS. It wasn’t ours. We just moved into this place and we’re still getting lots of mail that isn’t ours, so I didn’t think much of it. I just pulled it inside with plans to take it to the apartment complex office today. (The office was already closed yesterday by the time I found the box.)

Mid-afternoon, I got ready to go to the office. Max usually likes to go out (even though it’s blazing hot….he just wants to use the bathroom and run back inside), so I was getting him ready, too. I opened the door and discovered the boxes that really were mine had arrived! So I hauled them in and started unpacking them. Max ripped up all the cardboard and plastic packaging for fun, so I cleaned that up. Then I got ready to go to the office again, and did a little brushing on Max because I had plans to vacuum when I got back. (The shedding is unbelievable right now.)

Max tearing stuff up

This took about 20 minutes. There was a knock at my door.

I answered, one hand on Max’s collar, and there were three people there. The woman in the middle got right to the point, none too friendly-like:

“UPS delivered my box here yesterday.”

“Oh, yeah, it’s right here! I was just about to take that to the office.”

“Oh, really?”

“Yeah, here you go.”

“Like you were going to return my pizza last month?”

I honestly thought I hadn’t heard her right. “What?” I said.

“Domino’s delivered a pizza here last month and you didn’t return that.” If you’re hearing it in the snottiest voice imaginable, you’re on the right track.

I responded, if not cleverly, at least truthfully: “We didn’t even live here last month. We just moved in.” They were already half-way down the stairs without another word. The non-yogi part of me wishes I had shouted after them, “And I would never take your Domino’s anyway, because they themselves admitted a couple of years ago that they make sub-par pizza and despite their efforts to improve, almost anything else is still better, except in Colombia where I learned just weeks before I left that Domino’s is delicious. Plus my boyfriend can’t have dairy. And really nice to meet you! You seem great.” Glad I reined that in.

Three things:

  1. The fact that I’m still thinking about this tells me I’m taking it too personally. I need to work on that.
  2. Was my delayed trip to take the box to the office a divine intervention? She had two dudes with her. Was she planning to beat me up if I didn’t have the box? (I think I could have handled each dude individually, but together….I don’t know. Plus, she looked pretty scrappy.)
  3. She offered no benefit of the doubt.

From my perspective, that’s ridiculous. I held her box for her; it was only yesterday that it arrived. So to give her the benefit of the doubt, I have to put myself in her shoes. This is hard because:

  1. She arrived rude. She didn’t even say hello. Her voice was snarky and aggressive from the get-go.
  2. She brought two people with her.
  3. She didn’t back down from her rudeness, despite the fact that she was getting what she wanted and I was nothing but kind.

Argggh. Here we go. Benefit of the doubt:

  1. It was a medical supply company box, so there’s a fair chance she needs the contents to live. This has clearly happened to her before with the terrible pizza, and she had no way of knowing someone as considerate as myself had moved in, so she arrived assuming she was going to confront a thief.
  2. The dudes could have been for her protection against the unknown (me), instead of to beat me up. If I were thinking smartly in her situation, I would have done the same. (Maybe not two. Seems overkill.)
  3. It’s hard to admit you’re wrong. She didn’t want to. It was easier for her to keep being awful instead of switching to decency.
  4. (Bonus) This had nothing to do with me. The way people treat you has everything to do with them. Their issues. Their awareness or lack thereof.

Interactions like these disappoint me. There’s so much hostility and cruelty in the world, it seems like we could skip it about a UPS delivery, at least until you actually discover for sure that I had every intention of keeping your box forever and stealing your next pizza, too.

The really good thing about this is that it reminds me why “give the benefit of the doubt” helps guide my life. It’s also a reminder that the discomfort it inspired in me is a rare feeling, which means that most of the time, people are kind and wonderful. In fact, the boxes I received (from Boxed, actually) contained a handwritten note that thanked me for shopping with them. Simple. And I like it.

thank you note

My first instinct was to hope I never see her again, but now that I’ve had some time to sit with it, I hope I do. I hope we get another package for her, and I hope we get a chance to do better.

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