I just came back from an amazing family reunion hosted by my wonderful cousin Jen. I got to see cousins that I hadn’t seen in a while (and some that I hadn’t ever met before, how incredible is that?). As I sat and talked with people who I was only connected to by our shared ancestors, I thought about how beautiful it was that all of us got along so well, despite our different backgrounds, different life stages, different religious and political leanings, plus innumerable other differences.
It goes without saying that just being related to someone does not a smooth relationship make (hence the existence of useful articles like this one), but when a group of people want to be together, want to connect to each other, I think they naturally try to smooth over the differences and reach for the connective ground, or at least open themselves up to connection.
Thinking about this led me right into thinking about the Jewish time period that just started, the Three Weeks. Long story short, this time period is a reminder of all (most? much?) of the tragedies which occurred throughout Jewish history (spoiler alert that’s probably not a spoiler: it’s a long list). The root of a lot of these tragedies have to do with people being, well, jerks in some way.
No one really wants to be a jerk, but the daily stressors of life can sometimes cause otherwise nice people to act in not so nice ways.
One way to prevent this completely natural and normal tendency to become cranky and judgmental is to employ the mitzvah of giving someone the benefit of the doubt. We learn that the way we judge others is, ultimately, the way G-d will judge us (duhn duhn DUHN).
Don’t we typically cut ourselves a lot of slack when we let people down, even the self-flagellators among us? When we extend that same courtesy to others, we can remove a lot of the negative emotions that come with judgmentalism. Bye-bye annoyance, anger, excessive frustration and any of the other judgment-related feelings you might experience.
Going out of your way to give the benefit of the doubt only applies to healthy, non-toxic relationships. It’s no mitzvah to be a shmatta. I’m referring to the meat and potatoes of daily interactions – neighbors, friends, family, coworkers, online friends, and so on. Those are the relationships where we have more of a choice to either act with love and understanding, or to be annoyed and impatient.
For instance, you might call a friend, needing to mull over something in your life that’s really bothering you, and instead of providing the listening ear you need, she is distracted and not as responsive as you needed. You have a choice to assume that maybe she has more going on than you know, maybe she’s under a lot of stress.
Or let’s say a neighbor is less friendly than usual and consistently doesn’t want your to come kids over. Maybe she’s in the early months of a pregnancy, or maybe she is dealing with some family issues of her own that are making her retreat within the privacy of her home.
Another example is a coworker who seems to be slacking off, causing more work for you to do. Could it be that they are dealing with an ill family member and are worried about that?
It doesn’t even have to be anything dramatic. Maybe someone is cranky because they have a pinched nerve, or a migraine, or just came back from a trip and aren’t coping well with the chaos of not being able to find anything in their house (true story, happening to me right now).
Merri Ukraincik (who you might remember from last week’s list) and I collaborated on a project that touches on this idea of giving people the benefit of the doubt. We never know what’s going on with someone else, and I don’t know about you, but I need frequent reminders of this because I get annoyed easily, especially when I’m stressed out which is, let’s be honest, a lot of the time.
So we made these convenient magnets to remind ourselves (and the world!) to just be a little kinder, a little more generous, a little more connected to each other’s fragile humanity. Because, in a sense, we are all family, going to one large continuous family reunion. And wouldn’t it be something if we treated everyone we encountered with the same love and warmth as we ourselves would want to be treated? Oh man, that would be so nice. We need that. The world needs that.
I’m excited to share that Merri and I are both running giveaways for these magnets! That’s right, you can have your own cute little magnet to put on your car or fridge or fireproof safe or wherever you’d like to put it.
I’m going to select five readers at random and send out a magnet to you. All you have to do is leave a comment here, or on any of my social media platforms, with an example of giving the benefit of the doubt. Pop on over to Merri’s blog and check out her giveaway, too.
The giveaway will close next Sunday at 11:59 pm, and then I will pick the five winners and announce them next week (that’s my plan. I’m sure you all will give me the benefit of the doubt if I don’t succeed).
I can’t wait to read your comments!