December 18, 2013

Giving People the Benefit of the Doubt.

I’m going to be real with you: sometimes this comes to bite me in the ass (big time), but this is still the way I’m going to live my life:



the benefit

of the doubt. 

I realized this today when I basically unpacked my apartment on a four-top at Panera.

Panera is an interesting place—I’ve been coming here to write every Monday for a couple of weeks now and everything about it is curious to me: the people who come here (and why), the people who work here (and why), the two completely different feelings I have when I’m standing on the sandwich side of the restaurant or the breakfast part of the restaurant, and most of all, why the cashiers always ask me if I have a Panera card, but when I tell them no (which is always), they never offer me one.

Plus, it’s this time of year. It’s the time of year where all retail and customer service facilities have nearly doubled their inventory and are offering what seems to be twice as many goods as any other time of the year. This is because we are somehow more likely to buy, say, peppermint at this time of year, so at this time of year we will have the option of peppermint everything and it will make sense for us to buy it, so we probably will.

This means instead of two scone options, there are four; instead of three cookie options, there are five; and this goes for coffee flavors, candy knick-knacks, impulse buys at the register, etc.

The place is full of stuff.

But I digress: this isn’t a review of Panera (I think my stance on the matter is probably go if you want to, don’t go if you don’t want to), this is about me giving people the benefit of the doubt.

That’s right.

I have done this every single time I have come out to write: I walk in, I scope out where I want to sit, I look around and see who I will be working next to, I unpack all my stuff (which I mentioned is a small apartment’s worth of stuff, right?) and then I walk away from it.

I’ll just turn my back on my computer, my wallet, my phone, my schedule, my keys, my winter gloves (those are important), like nothing could possibly go wrong—like I’ve never heard of anything going wrong before in my life.

I know it will be tempting to now find and follow me around since I’ll probably be dangling maybe thirty dollars in cash for the sly-grabber, but I don’t think I’m being a big dumbie with this.

This isn’t something I do that I feel is careless.

This is because it feels good to me to give people the benefit of the doubt.

Giving people the benefit of the doubt isn’t believing that a thief isn’t going to come at any minute; giving people the benefit of the doubt is believing that the other people in the situation will, in all probability, hold a thief accountable in some way.

Giving people the benefit of the doubt is believing hard-core not that people are doing good-samaritan things, but that people are just straight-up good samaritans. 

When I enter into a room, it just so happens that I look around. This is a natural thing for me. I notice where people are sitting relative to me and how their days seem to be going and what they’re working on.

During this time, which is probably all of three minutes, it just so happens that other people look around. They begin to notice my movement just by sheer proximity. They see that I’m cleaning off the table and organizing stuff and setting up my computer and figuring out which chair to sit in by trying out each one twice.

It just so happens that it is very likely for people to notice all of this happening. It would be more difficult for them to completely ignore me than to notice me. Someone would have to try really hard to be completely and utterly oblivious to that happening (it was pretty quiet in there).

It will definitely be enough time for them to have made some sort of correlation between me and the things on the table because they, if even just peripherally, watched me do all that.

I’m not saying that people are watching me, I’m saying people notice that I’m here.

It then seems, to me, that if someone were to come to my table and pick something up and walk away with it, at least one person in the area would notice.

To notice is just to recognize, it’s not the acting on the recognition. There need not be a scream or a body block or a shriek or anything like that.

I’m not looking for people to super-hero my life for me.

But if I were to come back to my table and notice something missing, someone might say, yeah, the guy in the parking lot took it.

That there is enough accountability in this world—and accountability isn’t collated into good behavior and bad behavior, accountability is just paying attention—the belief that people are paying attention in their lives, at least enough attention to notice a now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t stint with a laptop.

And people paying attention in their lives is all I could ever really ask of anyone—to ask anything else would be unreasonable, to ask anything else would be to ask people to behave in a certain way, that way being aligned with what I think is good or bad, which is stupid because my idea of right and wrong should not dictate how other people live their lives.

Giving someone the benefit of the doubt isn’t a secret wish I have that other people will always behave in a way I think is good. 

It’s just the belief in how nature reveals itself to us: that it will be more likely than not for someone to notice and aid in the mitigation of a small restaurant thieving.

It’s not expectation. It’s probability.

Of course there is the probability that someone steals my stuff and absolutely no one notices—no one heard the door open or close, no one saw a movement, a shadow, zilch.

It could turn into one of those situations where no one believes that I had a computer on the table to begin with, and suddenly I’m Ashley Judd in Double Jeopardy, except I’m not working with murder, I’m working with…people frontin’ while my stuff is missin’.

But it’s highly unlikely.

It’s way more likely that if someone were to steal my stuff, enough people would notice and somehow alert other people of their noticing to either fully prevent a thieving or to provide enough descriptive information for me to classify their involvement as helpful.

I mentioned earlier that this sometimes comes to bite me in the ass, and that is exactly why.

Just because the probable might happen, doesn’t mean the improbable won’t happen: the improbable will always happen, at some point. At some point, if you let the numbers roll out for a long enough period of time, the improbable will happen.

It just makes more sense to me to walk into Panera, relax my stuff off—as if my belongings were these warming pats of butter melting off of me to a table, a rug, a chair, and retrieve the feeling of being settled for a second before going up to the counter to talk to strangers.

This is because I don’t like the feeling of running around, and this is a feeling I encounter far too often in my life—my days being a delicate stacking of appointments, with the off-set of something early rippling its way through the rest of the day and creating a highly energized feeling: the feeling of being hurried.

That’s just what happens in my life sometimes these days. It won’t always be this way. But right now, it is.

For some reason, I haven’t managed to make it feel good to walk into a place and go forward to the line with my small apartment slung over me! on top of me! around me! and get up to a counter and try to deal with my wallet—my wallet which is really more of a pouch, and in order to take one thing out of it, you have to take all the things out of it, sending coins scurrying and receipts fluttering, and oh, the mayhem, that’s right, I should get a new wallet—and then begin the balancing ritual of putting three things in two hands and only barely making it to the table before realizing that in order to stay alive, one must accept breath.

It feels chaotic.

I’m sure people organize their internal spaces all the time so that the situation I just described above is not a hectic, crazy mess, like mine is.

I haven’t figured it out yet, though.

This means, at some point, some of my stuff might get stolen.

Those are the consequences tacitly implied in the belief that people are naturally good: at some point, I will get proven wrong.

That’s because beliefs aren’t real: they are just thoughts in our brain and the way the events of the universe unfold is not according to their guidelines.

What our beliefs are and what is actually going on are two completely different things, so no matter what rules we want to believe the world operates under, there will always be something breaking those rules. At least occasionally.

I think that’s what it boils down to: it doesn’t matter whether or not we give people the benefit of the doubt, sometimes our stuff will get stolen, and sometimes it will get left alone.

Giving people the benefit of the doubt is the same thing as giving myself the benefit of the doubt, because the whole thing starts here: I must believe that if I walked back to my table and it were completely empty of my stuff—no one around me saw anything happen and there was no evidence of me even having put stuff down—the security cameras aren’t working for some reason—that even if all of that happens: I will be okay.

I don’t believe that my stuff won’t get stolen; I believe that even if it does, I will be okay.

Just knowing that gives me the feeling that other people aren’t so bad.

If I can give myself the benefit of the doubt, I can give other people the benefit of the doubt. That’s easy.

It also just so happens that it is more likely than not that if shit really goes down, other people will have my back.

And even if I’m proven wrong—I don’t care.

I don’t think the point of my life is to make sure that my stuff doesn’t get stolen; I think my point is to find as many times to conjugate the verb—to love—as possible.

And this is why I will probably get up right now and empty this cup of coffee out of me without even asking the girl next to me if she’ll watch my stuff.

I just looked into her eyes—I already know she will.


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Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Lucy R Fisher/Flickr

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