Forgiveness is the glue that holds commitment together. Without forgiveness, commitment will unravel and relationships will come apart. The central day-to-day skill of surviving and growing in relationships is reconciliation, and that starts by giving people the benefit of the doubt BEFORE I get offended.
This means if someone ticks me off I have an obligation first to stop, think, and consider if perhaps I am missing one crucial factor. It’s like the woman who was upset at not being invited to her friend’s wedding, and held a grudge for 20 years…until the invitation finally arrived in the mail accompanied by an apology from the Post Office.
More often than not we feel there could not possibly be any excuse or justification for certain behavior and we choose NOT to give the benefit of the doubt. It’s simply easier to become and to stay offended.
But we can grow in our ability. Here are five tips for growing in the grace of giving people the benefit of the doubt:
1. Assess the irritating situation and your reaction to it. Are you mildly annoyed? Frustrated? Angry? Full of rage? What is really sparking this emotional reaction?
2. Take a deep breath and do not indulge in your initial reaction. You cannot help your instinctual emotions, but by feeding into them you are escalating the situation and it will be difficult to follow the next steps in giving a person the benefit of the doubt.
3. Recognize that the person behind the situation is human (just as you are). As humbling as it is, we have all been a cause of annoyance to someone else, we have all had our bad days and we all have our quirks.
4. Put a story with the person. The story can be as ridiculous or as practical as you want. Are you being tailgated? Maybe the driver is late for his daughter’s first ballet recital. Is the waitress extremely rude? Maybe her boyfriend just broke up with her, her rent is past due, and she has been working doubles for the last three days. These probably won’t be the real triggers of their behavior but the point is we never know what is truly going on in someone’s life. I have found it helpful and it distracts me from my emotional reaction. It can be a useful tool or even turned into a game (Are you children in the car? Have them help you come up with possible scenarios for the cause of the offending party’s behavior).
5. Be patient and kind, regardless of the real story behind the behavior. Is a coworker complaining and snapping at everyone? Try bringing her a card, flowers, or chocolate. In my own experience this goes much further than getting mad at them or gossiping about them. Once again, you never know what is going on in their lives to cause the behavior, even if it’s as little as not getting very much sleep.
If you use kindness instead of retaliating, the situation will not ruin your day or give you a bad attitude. Even if the person does not appreciate your patience right away they very well might in the long-run (and you’ll be one less person getting mad at them, which is always helpful when someone is already having a bad day).
Tomorrow in Part II we’ll look at forgiveness through the eyes of a famous biblical character who experienced extreme betrayal and hurt and look at how we can begin to heal and extend forgiveness to those who have actually damaged us.Follow @chrislinzey