“And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.”
Regarding this verse, Marvin J. Ashton said:
“Perhaps the greatest charity comes when we are kind to each other, when we don’t judge or categorize someone else, when we simply give each other the benefit of the doubt or remain quiet. Charity is accepting someone’s differences, weaknesses, and shortcomings; having patience with someone who has let us down; or resisting the impulse to become offended when someone doesn’t handle something the way we might have hoped. Charity is refusing to take advantage of another’s weakness and being willing to forgive someone who has hurt us. Charity is expecting the best of each other. . .What ever happened to giving each other the benefit of the doubt?“
Feelings of charity are diminishing in the world, and the hostile attribution bias may be a major culprit of this demise. What is the hostile attribution bias? It’s the tendency most humans have to interpret as hostile the intentions of others, when in reality, their intentions are neutral.
Let’s face it. We all do this. It’s a natural human tendency to assume the worst and make hasty judgments about the motives behind another’s actions. But it is contrary to charity. If we work at “putting off the natural man,” we can overcome our hostile attribution bias, and become better at giving others the benefit of the doubt.
Why should I put off my hostile attribution bias?
1) People aren’t perfect.
2) Giving others the benefit of the doubt is healthy.
3) Not judging others is a commandment.
How can I overcome my hostile attribution bias?
Start with the small everyday things. Make it into a game. The more creative you are, the better. Try this- when someone does something and you are tempted to attribute negative intentions to them, try to be creative and think of alternative assumptions:
When someone doesn’t reply to your phone call
- Imagine they are just one of those people who doesn’t check their voice mail very often.
- Imagine they are just forgetful. They intended to reply but forgot.
- Imagine they are on vacation in the Mojave Desert, far away from any phone services.
- Imagine they are involved in a big project that has distracted them from getting back to you.
When someone cuts ahead of you in line
- Imagine their intent wasn’t rude; they just didn’t realize that there was a line.
- Imagine they were already there, but they stepped out for a minute to use the restroom.
- Imagine they just arrived in the U.S. from a totally different culture, where the concept of “standing in lines” has simply never occurred to them and doesn’t make sense to them.
When the car in front of you is driving slow
- Imagine they’re holding a goldfish in the front seat of their car and trying not to spill.
- Imagine they are just learning how to drive and are trying to be cautious until they get the hang of things.
- Imagine they have back problems and it hurts when they go over bumps too fast. They really don’t have any hostile intentions.
And of course, when someone is driving recklessly
- Instead of assigning hostile intent to their driving, imagine “The lady in the passenger’s seat must be in labor!”
Cheesy? Maybe. But it works!
Learning to not attribute hostile intentions to others is a technique that requires practice. You might have to fake it until you make it, but playing this game is a fun way to learn to be more charitable and also to realize how often we are resorting to the hostile attribution bias within us.
“When we feel hurt, angry, or envious, it is quite easy to judge other people, often assigning dark motives to their actions in order to justify our own feelings of resentment. Of course, we know this is wrong. . .Though we cannot look into another’s heart, we assume that we know a bad motive or even a bad person when we see one.”
- Dieter F. Uchtdorf
Personal Notes: Although I don’t always remember to play this game, I’ve noticed that when I do, I feel so much less stressed. In fact, it puts me in a more lighthearted mood by helping me to laugh at myself and the situations I often stress over. I really believe that trying to place myself in the other person’s shoes and view the situation with empathy is a key to becoming happier in our everyday lives.