On the “Benefit of the Doubt”

Photo by Andy Holmes on Unsplash https://unsplash.com/@andyjh07
Photo by Andy Holmes on Unsplash https://unsplash.com/@andyjh07

Having four kids at home, I find myself having to constantly explain to them the concept of giving the benefit of the doubt. The result of which is that the idea has become very near and dear to me. I see so many conflicts that could have been avoided if those involved understood it.

We like to think that we are good at understanding our motivations (that’s a post for another day). And because we think ourselves good at judging our motivations we justify to ourselves when we are mean or rude, inadvertently or as a side-effect of our actions.

We also are limited to viewing the world through our own eyes. As a result, we are not often privy to the appearance of our actions as seen by others. If you’ve ever watched a candid video of yourself you know what I mean. You watch yourself saying the words you remember, but your body language, your stance seem off. You remember feeling compassion during the conversation but in the video you seem almost aggressive.

It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to judge another person’s intent, and without understanding intent it is seldom fair to judge another’s actions. And yet, our level of offense is so closely tied to the perceived intent. You see someone cut in front of you in line and feel she was trying to disrespect you, or someone doesn’t respond to you and you assume he is giving you the cold shoulder. (Both may have completely innocent, albeit boring, explanations.) The point is this, seldom will you find one person being intentionally malicious toward another person, unless in retaliation for some previous injustice, real, perceived, or otherwise.

There is an old maxim that states that one should never attribute to malice that which can adequately be explained by ignorance. I think that is very wise. The truth is that, while as individuals we can occasionally be intentionally cruel, most people don’t like to be. Rather, we are all the heroes and heroines of our own stories. There is a sort of philosophy in Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game that to truly understand someone is to love him the way he love himself. So try, the next time someone causes you some injury to view the whole event from the other’s perspective. Try to understand and see how your emotions change. Try to see that person as she sees herself and to love her as she loves herself. Let that love lead you to share the most important thing in this life, the love of Jesus, who sees every intention and died to take our place.

It’s Nice to Read Again

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

The past couple of years I have had increasingly less time in the evenings. At my old job I would often have to work in the evenings just to stay afloat, as there was simply too much work for one person.

Since I’ve started my new job, however, even with all of the new things I have to learn I’ve found that I have more time in the evening to relax and recharge. And one of the things I’ve been doing with that time is reading more. Reading for pleasure, I mean, not just work related reading.

I love reading because it takes me out of myself for a little while. It allows me to shift my focus from the immediate stressors that weigh on me. I have no illusion that this is escapist, but it is, nevertheless, exceptionally rejuvenating. And who doesn’t need an escape now and again? I think it’s healthy to escape, to not focus on yourself and your troubles for a little while, it lends perspective.

And it exercises a part of the brain that is ignored far too often in adults, our imaginations. We’re encouraged to be inventive and creative in problem solving but at the same time it’s looked down on to read fiction. As adults we need to be able to think outside the box, but be firmly planted in reality. I think we treat these as mutually exclusive, but they don’t have to be. Exercising one’s imagination, easily done through reading, doesn’t cause one to loose grip on reality. In fact, I believe we can often learn more about reality from fiction than from non-fiction, but that’s another blog post.

When it comes down to it I don’t read for pleasure to escape my life; I read for pleasure to be refreshed for it.

Let’s Talk about Les Misérables

Grace as a Destructive Force
Photo by freddie marriage on Unsplash

For as long as I can remember I’ve loved Les Mis. My parents saw it when I was young and bought the recording. I’m not sure when I first heard the music, but that was my first exposure to Les Misérables. As I’ve grown older I’ve sought out more tellings of the story. I’ve seen multiple movies (musical and not) listened to and watched different performances of the music (live and recorded), and a year or two ago I finished the unabridged, albeit translated book by Victor Hugo himself. It is a work of art.

And like all art there’s always more to be enjoyed. But I want to just focus on one point, Valjean and his foil Javert. A foil relationship is where an antagonist is crafted in such a way that his traits highlight specific traits of the protagonist. In this instance (especially in the musical version) I think the foil is actually set up to highlight a third actor in play, Grace.

These are two men who are shown grace and respond in very different ways. Jean Valjean is a hardened convict who hates humanity because hate is the only thing he’s known. When the Bishop shows him grace even though he’s never been faced with it before, he accepts it. It upends his worldview and he becomes a new man. Javert is a strict keeper of the law, he believes that through the structures of law and society we ought to, and do, get what we deserve. He also recognizes the grace shown to him, but it does not fit into his rigid meritocratic worldview and it kills him.

From this we see something about grace. Grace is a destructive force. When we recognize grace it will destroy either our warped sense of self-deservedness or it will destroy us. Which will you let it destroy?