Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Benefit of the Doubt

The Benefit of the Doubt and other growing pains...       
Benefit of the doubtto decide you will believe someone or something

With age I'm less inclined to extend the benefit of the doubt.  I'm not sure when it happened, but it has indeed happened.  I used to believe that Barack would be a 2 term president, that Colin Powell would receive the respect that was fully due him, that investing in private education would create benefits that public education could not deliver, that the covenant of marriage would rise in popularity as we saw the impact of raising children in single parent homes.  As I've gotten older I don't have the same energy to compensate when the benefit of the doubt goes wrong.  I'm learning that I tend to simply not give it as much and with what I believe is good reason.

During some seasons I have given myself the benefit of the doubt  - in the belief that I could lose weight while committing to healthier life choices, get my PhD before I had gray hair and land the perfect hybrid between consulting and teaching college courses while my children were still relatively young.  I have always aimed really high and cleaned up for the messes created along the way, even in the belief that I could close the financial gap between my decision to be a non-profit consultant and my natural gifts in math & science that didn't translate into becoming an Engineer.  I tend to ask for forgiveness more than permission, and with wisdom has come a tendency to doubt, not to give the benefit of the doubt.  

Owning your limitations happens at various life stages I assume, but I had brought into the Superwoman model.  Such is life I thought.  Yet, the issue of doubt continues to resurface because doubt can lead to a generally disagreeable disposition I've learned.  Seeing that glass as half empty makes you more often than not a pessimist.  I never wanted to be a pessimistic mommy.  I wanted to teach my children to see the glass as half full.  I still want to.

The holidays always offer a twisted challenge in my world, a choice of living in the past or creating a vision for the future.  Stay with me, it does relate.  On the heels of a ministry peer telling me that I didn't return her text messages, I offered a confused look and a strong stance that I do at least try to respond to all messages received.  I felt a bit unnerved at the meeting as I thought of ways to prove that I really had been attentive to recent communication, only later to find out there is some issue between our two cellular phone companies.  I wondered aloud in that moment, why had I not earned the benefit of the doubt?  Clearly she assumed I had not responded, without considering that I had not received the messages.  

I also thought about a request that I made to a friend to pick up and deposit a check into my account from an out-of-state client.  She ultimately opted not to complete the favor because of concerns that it was somehow inappropriate.  A different friend within the same state completed the task in about 1 hour and indicated that she was happy to help.  I'm not sure how much impact we have on other adults and their "benefit threshold", but as a parent, I think our impact is primary and paramount.  I feel obligated to teach my children that they can extend the benefit of the doubt, because their life is and has been, different than the circumstances that shaped me. 

What leads us to assume the worst instead of assuming the best? How do we get past the lingering impact of disappointments and what do we do to balance the benefit of the doubt with intuition and good sense?  I have come to understand the "Benefit" of the doubt is as much about your threshold for pain as it is about the choice to believe freely.  I still come up on the losing side of the debate when I suggest that Chris Brown deserved more benefit of the doubt than he received, and that he too was a child when his actions led him down a difficult path of public scrutiny and becoming a domestic violence poster child.  By virtue of gender and leaked photographs we gave his girlfriend at the time much more benefit, put her on a few more magazines, wrote a few more stories about her and said as loud as our voices would carry that Chris' behavior was unacceptable.  True.  Not the entire story though in my opinion - I am a mother of both a daughter and sons, and I think there are lessons to be learned on both sides of that situation.  

My children are incredibly loyal to their father and discerning for their ages.  Whenever I suggest that they play favorites (I get picked for book reports and homework assignments, rarely for fun and games) they share a nervous laugh and ask, "When is Daddy coming home?" They ask about his whereabouts like the FBI and they tend to measure their future happiness based on what they believe is his present state of play - they expect that dad is equal to fun.  For our children past experiences guarantee benefit of the doubt, and as their mother I get taught the most basic lessons of unyielding trust by watching them.  My husband says, they are growing up differently than we grew up.  I believe they are living in a whole new world. 

The benefit of the doubt I've learned doesn't last forever, and after a lifetime of disappointments even an adult can cry uncle.  Benefit is really the equivalent of making a choice, a decision to believe when all factors point in a different direction.  For decades, I gave my father the benefit of the doubt that he wasn't capable of understanding the impact of his absence in the lives of his children.  We're cordial at this point, and as a grandfather he can be thoughtful and attentive.  What he cannot be, however, is the father that I aspired to as a child.  My children and I have been blessed with male role models, mentors and friends that are tremendous.  I should be more appreciative of that.  40 years later I still see the generational legacy of my father's choices as a lingering failure that I cannot fix.  In myself, in my mother, in my siblings and in my decision to intentionally parent differently, I carry that difficult legacy.

Giving him the benefit of the doubt has often meant disappointment that cuts to the bone and resurfaces at the most inconvenient of times.  Like holidays.  Even a choice to act and behave in a different manner doesn't erase the impact of the memories that linger.  I can hear Dr. Laura saying get over it, you cannot make people what you want them to be.  In most instances I would even agree with her.  Yet, I think its natural to give family members the benefit of the doubt, even when that ship has sailed, and time for something different has come and gone and come again, one too many times.  

Somehow as 40 approaches with little discretion I have resolved that it is difficult to teach what you do not know.  Difficult but possible.  My ability to teach the benefit of the doubt is a true work in progress, requiring a value system orientation that is not my own.  We are not just raising Jesus children out of habit or obligation, but out of a clear understanding of where our values come from.  Fellowship with the Father promises to be the only anchor when issues with my father persist.  My children have the benefit of an engaged and committed father, even though he too did not learn at the heels of a phenomenal father son relationship.  He has simply made a choice to life in a way that guarantees that his children extend the benefit of the doubt, because in most every situation, the ability to rely on his availability, attention and affection are guaranteed.  That alone is worthy of being a covenant keeper in my book.

I'm not sure what happens in the world of adult to make it so much harder to believe and trust in what people say or demonstrate as their intentions.  I do know, however, that children who are raised intentionally should learn as much about hope, faith and belief in the greater good of people as they learn about the barriers that we create for safety, protection and sanity.  They come here naturally reliant and trusting and willing to extend courtesies that as an adult have to be earned, demonstrated or even merited.  I look to them as teachers not just students, and I celebrate the use of instinct to make choices based on what they experience.  I remain thankful that for those closest to me, their grace has extended me the benefit of the doubt.  Wisdom has taught that not everyone can benefit from it.

1 comment:

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