The Benefit of the Doubt...
It does not serve you
What a nice sentiment, right? So warm, and fuzzy. So accepting and tolerant. It’s the right way to live, isn’t it?
Sure. If you want to have people take advantage of you every single day of your life, this is a stellar way to live. I have always offered this as advice to friends asking how to better conduct their relationships with people that they do not know well. It is a common problem that people make the assumption that other people are like-minded to them, and therefore mean them no harm. That is not the case at all.
The benefit of the doubt thing is something that is almost fighting words with some neurotypicals. They will defend their right to grant this adamantly, but then complain bitterly when this goes south… and it does… a lot.
Understand, when I say “benefit of the doubt” this is a phrase that is exclusively applied to strangers, and I will talk about why down below.
I am going to start with a definition because a lot of people attempt to redefine this in order to put themselves in the position of being right about their opinion of it. They add a lot of things to it, in order to do some mental gymnastics that will allow them to continue shooting themselves in the foot.
The benefit of the doubt means that you assume the other person has good intentions towards you or a situation without anything else to rely on to make that assessment other than your assumption that it’s true.
Never do this. No one has earned this from you, and it is the single largest thing that manipulators need you to believe in so they can get from you what they want. I have talked about this before in my list of how to avoid toxic manipulation, but every time I mention this, sooner or later someone feels the need to tell me that I am wrong. and it is important to offer the benefit of the doubt to others.
Let me be clear, you are allowed to have your opinion about this. You can live your life however you want, believe in whoever you want, and give anyone and everyone the benefit of the doubt if that is what you want to do.
However, if that is how you want to do things, and you repeatedly get taken advantage of, you choose that outcome. Yes, for certain I could say, it’s the manipulator’s fault. They came with bad intentions. Of course, that part of it is their fault, but letting them in? That’s your fault if you granted them something that they have not earned.
It is assumed that when I say, do not ever give anyone the benefit of the doubt, that I mean to say, assume that they have bad intentions. This is a very emotional response. Just because you don’t apply positive emotions to a person, why would you assume that I mean to apply negative ones? Do not apply intentions at all. If you are starting out tainting everything you see through an emotional lens, you are going to miss both positive and negative feedback that would be assisting you in figuring out the person’s overall intent towards you.
I do not give the benefit of the doubt because my emotional trust circuit does not work. This means that I have to cognitively grant trust to people, and let me tell you, being in a position where I do not have it naturally, but everyone around me assumes that I do because they can’t imagine a person being any different, it is very apparent to me quite quickly when there is someone that is never going to get that cognitive trust from me.
You learn to see signs, watch for certain behaviors, and know when someone isn’t just “making conversation”. I find a lot of other people miss these signs. People who want things from you are going to play on what works, and often it is sympathy or empathy. I have reams of stories regarding people making a play on either of these because they think that it might be an in with me. Granted, it’s a good bet. I am female, and females are often easier triggered on both the empathy and sympathy spectrum, but they often are confounded by my lack of response to their subtle, but to me obvious, “poor me” manipulations.
Remember where I said that giving the benefit of the doubt was fiercely defended by many people? It is often the exact same people that will have an endless list in their online profiles about how much they have been taken advantage of, and how big of a victim they are. I tell them, this is one of the reasons why you get targeted, but they don’t care, and get very angry with me for pointing out something that they need to shore up if they want to stop the bleeding.
Not giving someone the benefit of the doubt means that they have to tell you who they are, and they will. They will do so based on how they act towards you, and how they act towards others. Part of the beauty of this strategy is that most people are unable to keep up appearances for very long. If they are playacting being a decent person, but in reality, they have nefarious intentions, the longer you make them play their part, the more cracks you will see in the exterior, and the interior starts to show. It won’t be with you at first, it will be in how they treat other people around you.
If they gossip about others, they will gossip about you. If they yell at others who they deem “less than” you know that they consider themselves to be on a higher plane than those around them. Chances are, that includes you too. How they treat others, is how they will treat you as well, provided that they are being who they truly are, and not acting a part.
On the other hand, if they are actually a good person, that will be apparent as well, given enough time, that will prove itself to be the case. Very few people are able to successfully be someone who they are not for a long period of time. This is probably one of the reasons that people are so put off by psychopaths, as we have had to do this our entire lives, so if one has ill intent, it is far easier to play that part for the long con. It’s a fair complaint now that I think about it.
That is not going to be most people, however. Most people are not used to putting on a longstanding good show, and over time they will start to show you the red flags that you might have missed when you invest positive emotion into a person when there aren't any grounds for it.
Another thing that this will give you is a better database of human behavior. When you aren’t allowing your emotions to speak for you, you are allowing yourself to take in more information. Over time you will begin to recognize patterns of certain types of people. The more you watch, the faster you will pick up on these patterns, and the faster you can determine if the person is going to be worth investing a good amount of time or energy into.
The other side of this is that you should not expect the benefit of the doubt either. You have done nothing to earn that from anyone. You might be the best person alive, but they don’t know you, and they don’t know anything about you. Instead, your actions have to speak for you. Not getting the assumption that you have good intentions should not be an emotional thing, but rather a logical one.
In a previous post, I talked about how the word ‘no’ establishes boundaries, this is another aspect of that. You are making people work to be in your life. If they are bad people, this will be an inconvenience to them and not something that they are going to want to work at for very long. The really toxic people will fall off in a matter of days or weeks, but the more invested people, someone that really wants something from you might hang on for months, rarely years. They will try different tactics to try and get movement towards their position from you, and you will be more aware of their maneuvering because you have your handy dandy database that says the person is trying to find an in.
This strategy works with starting romantic relationships as well. Someone that is only interested in sex, or in your wallet, isn’t going to spend the time to work with someone that they deem difficult. Take for instance those people that are interested in falling hard and fast for them, if you don’t assume from the get-go that their compliments and flattery are because they are just so taken by you, then you might start to hear how hollow those things are.
The reason that these things work on people is that they are personally validating. It tells you that you are special, that you do have aspects about you that are irresistible to this other person, that you are a cravable human being. I get that, but really, being cravable isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and the person putting you in that position will betray you because it was never for your ego that they needed you to be so special, it was for theirs. Remember, do they seem. too good to be true? They probably are.
The human brain likes to seek to feel good. Elon Musk had a great point about this:
He stated (paraphrasing here) that humans believe themselves to be living in the frontal cortex, in the intellectual part of the brain. They think of themselves as thinking creatures. In reality, the frontal cortex is entirely consumed with occupying and satisfying the limbic system. While they think, they believe that they are logical and reasonable, their brains are actually firing on all cylinders with the sole purpose of satisfying the emotional.
When you give people the benefit of the doubt, you are entertaining that limbic system, not giving power to the intellectual part of the brain. This leads to a circumstance of cognitive dissonance. Even when there are things you should pick up on, you don’t because you will go out of your way to justify what you are seeing, or what your frontal cortex is sending you an alarm about.
It is even easier to take advantage of someone when the activation of that limbic system can be led. If someone were seeking to manipulate you for their gain, be that gain emotional payoff, like what happens with many toxic relationships, or financial con job, all they need to know is what your currency is. If it’s emotional, they can lean into that, and make you feel like a million dollars. Whatever your currency is, your brain is pre-primed to respond to that thing.
Did you know, one of the best sales tactics out there is to get you to say yes, a certain number of times in a row? Once you do so, you are disinclined to say no. Salespeople use this to their advantage, getting you settled in the mindset of saying yes, of moving forward, of wanting to keep walking the path that they are leading you down, and also betting that you might feel bad about saying no. It is all about manipulating that limbic system, and shutting off the intellectual part of your brain that says, “No, I do not want a timeshare, now bugger off!”
Instead, you find yourself rationalizing how your whole family could use that condo in Hawaii, and it really is cheaper than a regular family vacation. It isn’t, no one is going to go to Hawaii to use your bad business decision, and you are going to be trying to sell that damn thing on a timeshare marketplace in two years after not going there once past the first time. Now, I know that there are people that are perfectly happy with their timeshare, but there are probably a lot more that wish that they hadn’t fallen for the sales techniques that now have one burning a hole in their wallet.
Not giving someone the benefit of the doubt means that you aren’t in the mindset of being primed. You are hearing and seeing things with a more critical eye, and you aren’t applying a negative or a positive slant to any of them. It’s just what’s in front of you, and that person that is trying to take advantage of your limbic system will either have to work a lot harder than what they are used to, or they will have to find an easier mark.
Why would I say that the benefit of the doubt can only be applied to strangers? If you make people show you who they are over time, and through their actions, they will either earn your trust, or they won’t. If they do, then that trust isn’t going to be giving them the benefit of the doubt, but rather being understanding when things go awry. Giving the benefit of the doubt is something that you give to people that have not earned this trust. It is bargaining that they are well-intentioned, but you have no evidence to show that they are.
If they have provided you evidence that they are worthy, you are continuing your investment of trust into that person. They are reaping the dividends of the time that they paid in. There is no benefit to give them, instead, they are granted trust, emotional and/or cognitive because there is no reason for them not to have it. They have demonstrated their value, and you have demonstrated yours. They can always do something that may damage your trust, but the chances are low that this will be the case.
I have spoken before about my friend that works with abuse survivors, and being around people like that probably is one of the reasons why I always thought that my version of trust was normal. I had no idea that there was an emotional aspect to trust at all. To me trust was always earned, never granted. It made perfectly logical sense to me, and it wasn’t until I was researching the neurobiology of psychopathy, and its relationship with oxytocin, that I realized that “trust” was an emotion for neurotypicals.
Understanding this made the idea of giving the benefit of the doubt even stranger to me. If you know that you get emotionally damaged by trusting someone that should not have been trusted, not to mention possibly physically and financially as well, why would you allow them to garner that reaction from you? I somewhat get that it isn’t really a choice, and it is more automatic, but then doesn’t it stand to reason that counteracting that sense, and intellectually evaluating people on their merits would serve you better in the long run?
I suppose my conclusion on it currently is that the need to have companionship is likely what overrides the sense of longer-term self-preservation, and this might be due to how human society has changed so drastically in the last centuries. The larger the groups that humans reside in, the less accountability there is for doing something untoward to someone else. If you lived in a small community, where you were as known to your mother, as you were to the cross-town hardware merchant, then it is not in your best interest to be unscrupulous. You will be found out, and you will not have a comfortable life.
Now humans reside in cities with millions of people. You can see ten thousand on any given day, and never see one of those ten thousand again in your lifetime. There is less familiarity with your neighbors, and you may not even live in the same county as someone you meet on a dating app. There is very little that requires humans to be good stewards of one another, but the human psyche does not adapt that quickly. The human psyche is still dialed in for tribal living, and the benefit of the doubt isn’t really a thing.
If you live in a tribe, everyone you are around most of the time, are the same people. Everyone has to do their part to ensure that everyone is going to survive the winter when it comes, or whatever other trials and tribulations come to pass. You aren’t worried about them doing something nefarious to you, because that would not serve them well in the tribe. If you meet outsiders, you aren’t going to give them the benefit of the doubt either, especially if resources are at stake. Likely, you’re going to war with them.
Humans have been hardwired to depend on others around them, but humans are also hardwired to be self-serving. Strip away the community, and self-serving becomes the greater focus, and taking advantage has fewer consequences. All in all, I think that most people are just looking to get by, but that doesn’t mean that they have your needs in focus.
What’s more, is that they may not even understand your needs, and they might be assuming that the two of you are aligned in thinking when in reality you are both seeking different outcomes. This is another failure of giving the benefit of the doubt. You will enter into a negotiation thinking that you both would like the same thing, and because of that you aren’t communicating your needs clearly, and neither are they. You both end up thinking that the other person wasn’t honest in the deal, and both go away being angry or displeased with the other person.
There is a lot to be said for asking for what you want directly, and that is a different conversation, but there is also a lot to say to giving over the steering wheel to the intellectual part of the brain, and depriving the emotional part it’s immediate payoff. It may not feel as good as you would like, but in the long run, you will have stronger relationships with the people that you do grant access to your trust.
That’s my two cents anyway, and I am sure you guys will have really good arguments for the benefit of the doubt that I have not even considered. Share them with me, and if you think I’m wrong, tell me in the comments section why you think so. I am curious because this is one of the hot button issues that get people riled every time I have the gall to suggest it. I’m always happy to consider a different perspective. It builds my database.