Always Weary and Constantly Elusive: Benefit of the Doubt



Delegates seated at the COP15 conference in Copenhagen

It’s no surprise the rest of the world blamed the United States for the failure of the Copenhagen summit in Sweden. I wasn’t expecting many concessions from our side, especially seeing as how an entire section of our country swears up and down that there is nothing wrong with the global environment (we all know who to thank for that).

Actually, I was quite surprised when I learned President Obama overspent his time at the summit, crashed a meeting between a few nations and irritated the Chinese Prime Minister in order to hash out some sort of environmental agreement (Click here to read the article). President Obama’s appearance at the environmental summit is a great contrast from former President Bush, partly because the entire world isn’t protesting our President upon his arrival. Also, President Obama actually tried to get something done with one hand tied behind his back whereas, Bush would walk in for the party favors (I know I’m being biased, but I prefer clean air).2009-05-25-COP15logotildigitaltbrug

So knowing the performance of our previous administration, the dissenting opinion of many Americans, and the tough time Obama has already had trying to make radical changes in our society, I would think European administrations would be a little more kind, which brings me to the leadership lesson of the day: make excuses for those you work with.

Hamdun al-Qassar , a famous scholar, once said: “If a friend among your friends errs, make seventy excuses for them. If your hearts are unable to do this, then know that the shortcoming is in your own selves.”

When taking any sort of leadership role with your nonprofit, company, your family or a project for school, I would encourage you to do your absolute best and step past the human instinct of automatic assumption.

Instead, train yourself to constantly find reasons, no matter how outrageous they are, for your affected peer. I know that you’ve been in helpless positions which have seemed so silly, you were tempted to question yourself, and you didn’t feel anyone would believe you.

I also know that you have been in a position to assume the worst about a person and kept silent about it, only to find that you were actually wrong and the excuse/reason was justifiable and not something you would have ever thought of.

How foolish would you have felt?

Still need clarification?


  1. Your employee comes late to work: “Do you have any idea of what time it is?”
  2. A volunteer you work with didn’t do their end of the project: “We all have families here and things to do on our time. Can you please get your end done so we can move on?”
  3. Your group member in class is lagging on the assignment: “This guy just wants to get by on my hard work. I’m telling the professor.”


  1. Your employee comes late to work: “Hey, is everything ok?”
  2. A volunteer you work with didn’t do their end of the project: “If you need help or have any questions, you can always ask me.”
  3. Your group member in class is lagging on the assignment: “I can definitely see how this assignment can be a little tough. Is all OK on your end? Do you need extra assistance?”

Notice the common theme? By asking people if everything is ok or if they need assistance, you’re giving others the opportunity to come forward with their head held high and explain their situation. Most importantly, you’re doing what most others aren’t: showing you care.


Where’s the balance? That’s a question for another post J. Until then, keep turning the other cheek and give people as much benefit of the doubt as you can. You’ll find that when people see you actually care about them as a person, instead of seeing them as a means to an end, they’ll work better and stronger and everyone can win.


  1. KryptoniteLady
    Dec 29, 2009

    Looking forward to the next article. I have trouble believing we can get everyone ‘benefit of the doubt’.


  2. Pamela Viren
    Dec 29, 2009

    Why would it be difficult to give people some room? I’ve been in several situations where people judge me for things which have been out of my control, and I don’t think that’s fair. It’s important to give people some room because one day they’ll reciprocate, and God knows what their situation is. I remember when I was younger, and a repairman borrowed a pen and knife from my mother. When he left, he didn’t return it and I called him a thief. My mom responded with something very wise. She said, “We don’t know his situation, maybe he can’t afford those things or maybe he just forgot.”This article reminded me of my mom. Thanks. :-)


  3. John Randall
    Dec 29, 2009

    I agree it’s necessary to give people benefit of the doubt, especially if they are your employees and your family. It could be seen as extremely rude and arrogant to continuously question your peers, and in this economy it could also be seen as oppressive or an abuse of power. Where do you draw the line? After all, if you do follow the advice in this article, you may be seen as a Buddha. Someone who is constantly nice and forgiving and turning the other cheek. Won’t people take advantage of kindness?


  4. Scooby
    Dec 30, 2009

    In my opinion, giving people benefit of the doubt shows humility. Authority figures should be able to relate to their own life and remember that no one is perfect or lives in a perfect world. On the other hand, there is a limit to this benefit of the doubt. Especially when people know they can put a little more effort into their daily lives and bring about a change. This requires support from surrounding colleagues or friends or family. Most of the time this change can not be brought about alone.


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