A while ago I was driving in fast, heavy traffic, and was severely cut off. As in standing-on-the-brake-pedal, I-nearly-bit-through-my-tongue severely cut off. Thankfully, nobody was injured, no cars kissed fenders, and I kept driving along (albeit with a racing heart).
“You guys both ok?” I asked the little boys in the backseat.
“Yep!” they both answered, then they started discussing the could haves, would haves of the near miss.
“WHY would someone drive like that?” said the 6-year-old. “Are they a bad driver?”
“They were an idiot” stated his slightly older brother, smug in his own opinion.
“Don’t know,” I said, “but it’s best to give them the benefit of the doubt.” I told the boys a trick I use to stay calm, to not get angry, in situations where people act in ways that upset me.
“Maybe that man was rushing to the vet with his dog because the dog’s been bitten by a snake. Maybe the person sneezed, or got a leg cramp, and it was a total mistake they couldn’t help. Maybe they’re just having a terrible, horrible day and aren’t concentrating very well because they’re upset. There could be lots of reasons. We just don’t know.”
Silence from the back seat while the boys looked curiously at the people in the cars driving beside us.
“Maybe it’s squirrels” suddenly floated from the back.
My baffled “What?” was over-whelmed by the scoffing “There are no squirrels in Australia!”
“But… maybe pirates sneaked in some squirrels to Australia and… and… and that guy has a squirrel in his car trying to eat his peanut butter sandwich.”
More silence, this time vaguely nutty-scented.
“It could be squirrels,” his older brother grudgingly admitted. “But I reckon it was a Slurpee brain freeze. Those things HURT.”
We continued down the highway, tyres humming along with the woosh of passing cars, eventually arriving safely back at home. Neither boys remember the near-miss, but they do remember the benefit of the doubt story making idea. We call it “maybe it’s squirrels”.
Humans love jumping to conclusions. Even if we don’t mean to, it happens. Even when we try really hard NOT to judge someone’s motives, or reasons, we can slip up and jump into mistakes, into anger, into self-righteous blaming and bad moods that can affect our lives and relationships for hours, days, even years. Sometimes we can ask the person why they did that particular something, or didn’t, and try to find out the real reason behind the worry, discomfort, embarrassment, fear or pain they caused us. They may have an explanation, or may be totally clueless as to what happened or why that may have affected us.
Sometimes, for countless reasons, we can’t find out, we can’t ask, and we have to find a way to deal with the un-answer. But sometimes it can cost us nothing – and can totally change our day and mood – if we can chose compassion or empathy over anger or resentment. Which can start by giving those around us the benefit of the doubt.
You never know. It may involve squirrels.