Have you ever been driving along happily and suddenly found yourself cut off or tailgated by an aggressive driver? What stories do you tell yourself in these situations? Do you assume that person is just impatient and rude? Do you allow yourself to get worked up and offended, refusing to let them pass? It is easy to assume they are being rude, and it may even be true; but what if you found out that lying in the backseat is a child having an asthma attack or a woman whose water has just broken, and that driver is actually out of his mind with worry, trying to get to the emergency room as quickly as possible? Would that change your feelings about his actions?
When we give others the benefit of the doubt, it frees us from the stress we experience related to the stories we tell ourselves. How many times have you let yourself be wounded by someone’s behavior, only to find out later that his or her actions had nothing to do with you at all? Maybe your husband was grumpy because he was tired, or your friend forgot to call because she had a child home from school with a fever. What if your son isn’t ignoring you but is deep in his own thoughts, processing an argument he had with his girlfriend at school? We create stress for ourselves and waste our mental energy trying to read into other people’s behavior. If you feel you need a resolution, ask the other person directly. Otherwise, let it go and move on. You have much better places to spend your mental energy.
We have all had days when we realized that something we did or said was misconstrued. Perhaps we offended someone when we had no intention of being hurtful. When I find myself in this situation, all I can hope for is that the other person will give me the benefit of the doubt and not assume the worst of me. We are all on our own journey, but we are part of something bigger here. Not everything is personal, and other people’s journeys are as just as important to them as ours feel to us. Let go of the imagined stories in your mind, assume the best and move on. Your day (and your life) will be happier for it.