A Radical Perspective on the Benefit of the Doubt

Love is not always about comfort.
Communication is not always about acquiescence.
The right thing to do is not always the easy thing to do.
Doubt is not always about lack of information.

This post is a challenge.  More specifically, it’s me challenging you to consider the rationale behind the popular idiom “the benefit of the doubt.”  I find it interesting that self-doubt is labeled as a bad thing,  yet when it comes to our relationships with other people, doubt is framed as a good thing; and not just a good thing, but a benefit.

Da hell?

Benefit is a heavy word!  You know good and well that folks live and die working jobs they hate and staying with people they don’t love all because of benefits.  And when it comes to the benefit of “the doubt”, it’s time we re-evaluated our relationship with it, because perhaps it’s another thing we’re living with and not loving.

We tend to lump doubt into the same category as fear, and we are taught to avoid doubt whenever possible.  But are fear and doubt two sides of the same coin?

Fear sucks. And it debilitates. And it stifles. And separates. Hell, it even kills.  But doubt is another species altogether, and it wasn’t until just now, (I’m writing this at 10:17PM on Sunday) that I recognized that shit!

Certainly, doubt can be a stankin’ ass, painful ass, perfectly (in)valid excuse for punking out of what we know needs to be done, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes, doubt can give us the important pause we need to discern, evaluate, and check in with our bellies when it comes to important decisions.

About an hour ago, I was faced with the opportunity to give someone I care about the benefit of the doubt. I declined that opportunity when I recognized that it was not an opportunity at all. Choosing the benefit of the doubt, in this case, did not mean I was being compassionate, nor did it mean I was being fair.

Instead, I recognized that the only thing I was being was afraid.

Afraid of what would happen if I let myself say exactly how I felt. And terribly afraid of being wrong. After all, the absence of doubt is certainty, right?  So If I remove doubt, then  all I am left with is the choice I made on either side of doubt.  And when we choose certainty over doubt, we are not always empowered. Sometimes, choosing a side, believing a particular thing, or deciding that we know what we really only suspect, is the tough choice we avoid, and instead we ride the benefit of the doubt train, because it’s safer.

Here’s the thing …

Sometimes, maybe even most times (and definitely the first time), it’s okay to offer up the benefit of the doubt. But if the same person keeps giving you “opportunities” to offer up that benefit, perhaps it’s not so beneficial after all.  And perhaps it’s not about them at all, but more so about you not expressing yourself because it’s easier to acquiesce and call it compassion, fairness, or the high road.  I’m not saying that always the case, but I am saying it is always worth considering.

Want to explore the #RadicalSelfie route?

Treat the benefit of the doubt like dinner shoes.  You know those shoes, right?  The ones you can only wear from the parking lot to the table inside the restaurant where you’ll be having dinner?  The ones that you can only stand in for 7.5 minutes before you start looking like you’re walking on stilts?  Yeah, those.  Treat it like dinner shoes in that you reserve it for special occasions, and you wear it with pride when you do pull ’em out of the closet.  But when you really need to take a stand, meaning you’ve already granted that person the benefit of the doubt in the past, put those dinner shoes away, pull out your comfort-over-style shoes, and walk your ass straight into the risk of self-expression.  And yes, self-expression is a risk.  And yes, it is absolutely worth it.

  • SusanKristine

    I would agree, if you have given the “benefit of a doubt” repeatedly to the situation, person, job, etc. It is time to stop benefitting. You need to define what is not working for you, or what you are not defining in fear of knowing beyond a “shadow of a doubt” you need to take another action…….