I read a great blog post recently by Nir Eyal called The Secret to True Kindness. (Check it out.) However, in the article I think Nir may have left out an important principle as to why we give people the benefit of the doubt. As I looked at his diagram screenshotted below (which is great food for thought by the way) I noticed that just because we are “close” to someone doesn’t automatically increase our level of kindness to them. In fact, the opposite may also be true. I have family relationships, as I am sure many of my readers do, where the closer we are, the harder it is to like them and the harder it is to give them the benefit of the doubt.
I like making matrices to help organize my thoughts. And I always seem to gravitate to Quadrant 2 being the ideal real estate to be in (shout out to Stephen R. Covey). What I think may have been missing from Nir’s article is the level of trust we place in someone. The closer we are to someone the greater our ability to extend trust (or not) and the greater the ability to give those individuals the benefit of the doubt on any mistakes they may make in life.
I see this in both my professional and personal relationships. He didn’t meet that project deadline… but that’s okay because I know he had that family emergency come up out of nowhere. She didn’t get that check in the mail for that monthly bill like she said she would… but that’s okay because she has never missed our payment before.
As we look at our relationships, closeness alone doesn’t equate to extending kindness, but what we learn about people through that closeness. We see their motives, habits, and behaviors during good and challenging times and that informs us on when we extend trust sometimes characterized as “the benefit of the doubt,” and when we don’t.
Regardless, I find that in most cases people screw up not because they want to, but because of challenging circumstances that catch them not at their best self. With the exception of abuse and downright nasty people, most people appreciate when you give them the benefit of the doubt even if you aren’t very close to them. It’s what decent and kind people do.