goodManners: Benefit of the Doubt Why and how to practice kindness and tolerance in front of children

A few weeks ago, I was at the photo store using their computer to crop a holiday photo. The store was very busy that day, and I was waiting to pay.

While waiting, an elderly woman asked me a few questions about using the photography computer. I’m in no way a computer photo expert, so the two of us were trying to follow the instructions together.

In the interim, the man behind us waiting for the computer was visibly getting impatient. He was sighing, tapping his fingers and repeatedly lifting his wristwatch above his head looking at the time.

After a few moments, the elderly woman turned and said “I see you’re in a hurry, please use the computer and I will finish mine when you’re done.” The man didn’t say a word and briskly used the computer.

I thought the manner in which he communicated that he was in a hurry was quite rude – and to not even say “thank you”. Well, to be honest, my thoughts raced to the conclusion that he’s just not a very nice person. I told the elderly woman that her gesture was so kind, and promised to stay with her to finish her photo.

Then, something unusual happened. After the man put his memory card in the computer he stopped, looked the elderly woman in the eyes and sincerely apologized for his rude behavior. He simply explained that he had no excuse for such behavior, and helped the elderly woman finish her photo.

I’m in no way endorsing that rude behavior is acceptable if it is strategically followed by an apology. However, I think from time to time we are all guilty of making mistakes in social etiquette.

Sometimes, a mistake like this can cause us to make quick, unjust assumptions about a person or situation – I found myself guilty of that a mistake in the photo store.

And, sometimes such a mistake is compounded by reacting poorly before thinking – as the man in the photo store did.

Some people intentionally are rude and uncaring. On the other hand, more typically we encounter people that have a momentary lapse in behavior or judgment. Maybe we should all make a concerted effort to give people the benefit of the doubt when dealing with impolite social behavior. Give the person a moment to recover and do the right thing. Usually that means a sincere and heartfelt apology.

Of course, every effort should always be made to be considerate of others and sometimes that means a modicum of tolerance and patience. On the other hand, if the person is being blatantly rude, a calm, assertive and strategic response is appropriate – and that’s an article for another day.

In the meantime, practicing kindness and tolerance is usually rewarded with kindness and tolerance in return. It’s a positive way to conduct yourself, and an excellent example to display in front of your children. Give it a try – give someone the benefit of the doubt the next time you encounter a potentially unpleasant situation.