It’s that time of year again – when it’s good, it’s very very good, and when it’s bad, it’s, well, much much worse. We see great acts of kindness and goodwill, and when there’s conflict or sadness, we feel it deeply. I see a lot of conflict in my work lately, which comes from many issues, which are unique to each situation, but there is one common element which is possible to change with one small act.

A gift, really, appropriate to the season, of benefit of the doubt. It can turn around a conversation going from bad to worse, can lighten your own load, and change your relationships. It’s simple, really, just a choice to assume better than you automatically would. Your friend, partner, or even a perfect stranger, says something that stings, brings out your own worst assumptions about who they are, what they always (or never) do (or fail to do), and what they really think of you. Perhaps you are right or nearly right, but going that direction in your thoughts and reactions, is definitely going to make it so. However, what if you’re mistaken about their intent? What if you don’t really have the capacity to mindread? What if they have something going on that you know nothing about? Worse, what if something you did or said mindlessly just before they responded, was misunderstood, taken wrong or somehow just didn’t come out quite right?

Benefit of the doubt has many virtues, but my favourite is that it costs nothing! It is simply a question, formulated quietly in your own mind, that can allow you to pause and respond reflectively, rather than reflexively. The difference is that you choose to act or speak as though the other person is well intended (maybe illspoken, or distracted), rather than assuming that they have nothing but disdain or disrespect for you. If the latter turns out to be true (and I truly believe this needn’t be a forgone conclusion), you have lost nothing but a gesture, and can still choose to remove yourself from their company. However, if it’s not really true, you have taken a step to move yourself back from a potential conflict, and may have rescued a relationship.

This holiday season, take a step back, breathe, and give yourself and others the benefit of the doubt. The best ever gift, which suits anyone, from your loved ones to the stranger on the street. Happy Holidays!