The Benefit of the Doubt

March 27th, 2009

Here’s a New Year’s resolution that anyone can keep. Give the people you love, starting with yourself, the benefit of the doubt. Generally speaking and almost without exception most of us are doing the best that we can at any given moment. We are being as loving as we can be, as kind as we can be, as generous as we can be, even though our best might not make it, even and especially in our own eyes.

This was brought home to me in a deep and personal way as I spent the holidays with my original family. Although the visit did not include any storming out or other traumatic arguments that suggested the end of the relationship, the very lack of them and what was left over made the reality of the relationship clear. It was a bittersweet departure, with this realization of what was left between us, and our agreement to not try to be understood or provoke a healing in all the old wounds.

My fifteen year old son commented that my mother did not bring out the best in me. He loves his newfound wisdom and I could not argue the point. Sometimes the love we can express doesn’t bring out the best in us, and although we may wish to be kinder and more loving the reality of the past and all the baggage that is visceral in us allows only the benefit of the doubt to protect us.

It is a humbling realization. To see the limits of one’s own capacity to love so clearly and still try to come to a place of loving oneself. This is actually our only choice and in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. in his speech “Where do we go from here?” He calls this creative redemptive love ultimately the only answer we have as a human family. This redemptive love, which is far from the way we idealize loving relationships, is what we are given to build family and community with. It has to be enough.

With many people in my life, loving them brings out the best in me. I am inspired by my ability to give generously of my time and resources. It is comforting and easy for me to accept even my weaknesses when I am with these heart connections. I don’t have to think about giving the benefit of the doubt so much in these relationships because they make me feel strong and, on good days, confident.

But what this new year taught me is that until I can embrace the relationships where I am weakest, and meaner than I want to believe, I can’t fully embrace the rich heart connections because all those parts of me live in me and can’t be neatly separated by the quality of the relationship. In fact the more complex the relationship the more likely that the benefit of the doubt is the only thing that can sustain us living on this little blue planet spinning in space.

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