Presume Innocence

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One of the greatest gifts you can give people you love is the presumption of innocence. 

Years ago, I had a conflict  with someone at a family gathering. Later as I reported the bad behavior to my husband, he replied: Did you ever consider she might be having a bad day?

His response stuck with me because he was reminding me that my family member was human. Maybe she wasn’t such a bad guy and was just having an off moment. 

And that if I thought about it for a second and offered her just a little bit of grace, I might remember what is really inside her heart.

I know. I know. Some of you are reading this and thinking, “Okay right, but you don’t know my family or friends.  If I give them the benefit of the doubt, they might just walk all over me. I have to stand up for myself.”

Let me be clear, I am not advocating being a doormat. The quick and easy rule I tell my clients is to try to presume innocence and let any potentially hurtful incidents go until the third episode. When you give your friends and family two chances, you are giving them slack to make up for bad days, poor sleep or anything else that may cause not-so-great but temporary behavior.

If a pattern of not-so-great behavior continues, talk about it directly. But even when you do so, try to start with the premise that you are both good people, with good intentions who might just be trying to get to the root of the problem. 

I know what I’m asking isn’t easy. And in a culture where grievances are celebrated, you might feel as if you are going against the grain. So why should you do this sometimes hard, sometimes annoying work? Because you and your relationships will be better off. You will experience more daily peace. And you may be offering your loved one just the amount of grace they need to fix what’s going wrong in their day. A bonus is that if you give others grace, generally you learn to give yourself some grace as well.

One caveat: Some people DO suck. Meaning, they are not worth your ongoing time and grace. How will you know who sucks and who is just being human?  The not-so-nice behavior will continue whether or not you give them the benefit of the doubt. So err on innocence until proven guilty.

Not sure? Try it and see what happens! My prediction: the relationships with the good people in your life will improve, and the relationships with the not-so-good people will sort themselves out quicker…




Nicole C Weiss LCSW

Nicole WeissPresume Innocence

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