Never trust people blindly, but I believe it’s better give people the benefit of the doubt rather than be cynical about everyone and everything people do. If you don’t really know someone, you should assume they are a good person until proven otherwise.
Of course there are bad people out there who only do selfish things and don’t care about anyone else’s well-being – those people really do exist. But it’s important to recognize that they are a minority, and most people just want to enjoy life and be happy, even if they don’t always know the best way of doing it.
If you have strong reason or evidence to believe someone is a bad and selfish person, then be cautious around them or don’t interact with them at all. Save yourself from the trouble. But for everyone else, try to give them the benefit of the doubt that they are good people, even when they make mistakes or do terrible things.
At the end of the day, it’ll work out more in your favor because it’s better to give people the benefit of the doubt and only be disappointed every now and then, rather than be cynical about everyone and be hurt 100% of the time
This is because it’s very hard to connect with anyone if you’re always skeptical and cynical of them.
Approaching life with this attitude is ultimately a lose-lose situation. You become excessively anxious and paranoid – and thus you’re always “on guard” that someone is going to hurt you. It creates a kind of mean world syndrome.
Here are good reasons you should try harder to give people the benefit of the doubt:
1) We have a tendency to overestimate internal vs. external factors when observing other people’s actions
When someone makes a mistake or does something we find terrible, we have a tendency to believe this is caused by their individual personality, and not their situation.
This is known in psychology as the fundamental attribution error. To overcome this bias, we need to honestly ask ourselves:
- “If I was in this person’s shoes, with their knowledge and experiences, would I act much differently?”
- “What environmental factors may have influenced this person’s actions which I may not have been aware of?”
- “Would most people behave this way if they were in a similar situation?”
Practicing empathy through a technique know as perspective-taking can help you answer these questions and improve your ability to understand why people may act the way they do.
When taking other people’s perspective into consideration, you accept that there are factors that may have influenced their behavior that you probably weren’t completely aware of. By doing this, you learn to more easily give people the benefit of the doubt.
2) Our beliefs about people can create a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy
In many ways our beliefs and expectations about the world can become a positive feedback loop for the results we get in life – this is especially true for our relationships.
You go into a social interaction expecting a person to be a certain way, and you thus act in ways that make that expectation become a reality.
For example, you hear that someone is a bitter and selfish person, so you go into the interaction already being closed off and guarded. Then the person reciprocates that emotional distance, and you conclude, “You see? That person is a bitter and selfish person.” But maybe they would’ve acted differently if you went into the interaction without that prejudice.
Our social lives are abundant with these kind of self-fulfilling beliefs – both positive and negative. This is why giving people the benefit of the doubt is an effective way to reverse the self-perpetuating cycle of cynicism. You’d be surprised how much you can change about your relationships once you first change your beliefs and expectations about yourself and others.
3) It teaches us how to forgive ourselves for our own mistakes
Making it a habit to give other people the benefit of the doubt allows you to give yourself the benefit of the doubt as well.
In my article how to completely forgive yourself, I cover the importance of forgiving others and being understanding toward other people’s behaviors, even when we don’t always agree with them. This door toward forgiving others is often the same door toward being more forgiving of ourselves.
This is because when we don’t give people the benefit of the doubt, we are often forced to hold our own actions at a higher standard than others. Or, even worse, we have to deal with our own hypocrisy and cognitive dissonance when we make similar mistakes and try to justify them.
Being gentler in your judgments toward others allows you to be gentler in your judgments toward yourself. Try to focus more on understanding someone and their actions, rather than labeling them as an inherently bad and negative person.
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