Benefit of the Doubt
In most discussions facts are irrelevant. It's personal experience that shapes our mind and creates our version of the truth.
Good afternoon and to all the new subscribers out there, welcome to Prompted!
Each week I share one idea and a few journal prompts in the hope that we can all become a bit better each day.
This week’s thought is a bit abstract, but I hope the message helps you give more people in your life the benefit of the doubt. I believe we can all benefit from thinking less about the “facts” and more about how others arrived at their current way of thinking.
Benefit of the Doubt
Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by past experiences.
- Adaptation of Hanlon’s Razor
Every time we interact with someone we are interacting with a lifetime of their experience. Every moment of our lives shapes the person we are, the knowledge we have, the opinions we hold, and what we believe to be the truth.
As such, the truth is relative. Each person has their own version of the truth informed by their experience of life.
Some people believe humans are inherently evil and they have a lifetime of experience to prove that claim. Others believe that humans are inherently good and have just as much evidence to back it up.
Who’s to say either of these people is wrong?
Even if there is one overarching truth that transcends individual experience, it’s difficult to believe anything that doesn’t align with our lifetime of opinions, learnings, and unique versions of the truth.
Imagine discovering the world is round through an obscure calculation and trying to convince your friends, who walk around on flat ground all day, that the earth is actually round. You’d be labeled a crazy person immediately.
You could show them all your observations and calculations, but since they don’t align with anyone’s lifetime of experience, they probably wouldn’t believe you.
In each interaction between two people, two versions of the truth are coming together and comingling.
Every time we sit down to have a conversation we should remember each person has a lifetime of unique experiences that have built their worldview. Odds are that a huge portion of those experiences have been very different from our own.
Whatever opinions or ideas we have are evidence-backed by the life we’ve lived. If we disagree with someone else or notice something they say is “wrong” in our own view of what the “truth” is, it’s helpful to remember two things:
No matter how much evidence and logic we provide, it’s impossible to override a worldview constructed over decades with a few well-spoken points.
Whatever someone else believes, whether we think it’s wrong, inefficient, detrimental to themselves, or any other number of things, they’ve arrived at that belief the same we arrived at ours.
It’s my belief (and feel free to disagree with me here) that most people have good intentions and are simply acting on what they believe to be the best course of action for themselves and those they care about based on their experience of the world.
Whether you agree with my view of people or not, we can all benefit from giving others the benefit of the doubt. If we investigate what shaped someone’s current mindset instead of trying to prove that our way of thinking is better, we could better understand others and connect with them on a deeper level.
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Do I assume positive intent when I think about the actions of others?
What projects am I working on right now? How have my previous experiences informed my approach to these efforts?
What do I disagree with other people about the most? Why does my belief differ from others?
Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds - The New Yorker
A fascinating read about the way our brains work and how our beliefs come to be.
Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds - James Clear
A great blog post from Clear dissecting the factors that change our minds. Even if you don’t read the entire article, it’s worth reading his first footnote.
Thanks for reading! I’ll see you next Sunday.