how not to be in denial   “I don’t believe it. I don’t believe it” Roy kept saying. He was sitting at his desk in the corner of his office, alone in the dark. He was looking at his records and the unimpeachable truth was staring him in the face: Benjamin clearly had been doctoring the books. For years.

Roy put his hand to his heart. He was not ready to calculate the cost that this amounted to. He was dazed and remembered to try to just breathe. Hours went by. “How had this happened?” he asked himself. Roy slowly moved his eyes off his screen and stared out the window, seeing the distant past.

He recalled the first time he met Benjamin. What a nice young man! That was many years ago, but Roy still remembered the wonderful appearance he gave. He was so neat, so polite, so careful with his speech. So what happened? Where had things gone wrong?

There was that incident five years ago that Roy brushed off.

One of the managers had come to him, a bit concerned about a shipment that he, the manager, had never ordered. There was an amount of money on the books for it — and no merchandise. The money was unaccounted for. Roy remembered clearly that incident. He had waved his hand at the manger saying, “Benjamin will find it.”

And when Benjamin didn’t report anything, he actually brought the matter to his attention.

Later on, Benjamin reported it had been “taken care of” but that manager — what was his name? long since gone — told him that there was no indication it had been taken care of.

So Roy did what he thought was right. He gave the benefit of the doubt. Was that wrong? Now, on this cold December night, he thought that perhaps it was.

When You Shouldn’t Give The Benefit of The Doubt

Natalie had what seemed a similar problem. She couldn’t understand why her friend Christine did not invite her son Mike to Christine’s son’s birthday party. Christine explained that she did but the card must have gotten lost and Mike was included at the last minute.

Not two months later, Natalie heard from another mother that Artie, Christine’s son, had friends over for an ice-skating outing — and once again, Mike was left out.

Natalie always believed in giving the benefit of the doubt, but maybe Artie really didn’t like Mike. Natalie thought about it and it made sense. Just because she and Christine were friends, why did that necessitate that Artie be Mike’s?

Then after Christine’s oldest child got engaged, much to her surprise, Natalie was not invited to the wedding. “Perhaps we are not friends after all,” thought Natalie.

Unlike that time she called Christine directly about Mike’s missing invitation, Natalie decided not to pursue it. She figured that if there really were a “lost” invitation, Christine would eventually call her to find out if she was coming.

Christine never did. Is “three the charm”?

Then there was Dave who kept making excuses for his wife’s sarcasm and pointed remarks. For years he told his children to just ignore her because she really didn’t mean it. He was quite sure she was a person with a kind heart who just had her “moments.”

That is, he held this stance until he overheard his wife lace into their son — over what he deemed a stupid reason — saying, “I never want to see you again!”

“What?” He thought. Their son forgot a birthday card for his mother and for that she never wants to see him again? Dave couldn’t get over it. It made no sense. Months and months went by of Dave pondering this.

It threw into question everything he had ever said to his children — or to himself — about what kind of human being his wife was. He was crushed, broken hearted and barely able to function. But no matter how many times he explained to his wife how wrong she was, she was adamant in her position!

“Does she have a heart at all?” he started to wonder. “Is she normal?”

And finally: “Am I guilty of giving too much benefit of the doubt?”

When it comes to interpersonal relationships, it is also important to not overlook the red flags.

Roy had at least one and there were probably more. Natalie certainly did and Dave probably had dozens. Giving the benefit of the doubt does not mean pretending that the red flags are not there.

I think the lesson for us is important in our interpersonal relationships. Giving the benefit of the doubt does not mean overlooking things as if they never existed. It does not mean making excuses for what your eyes and ears tell you is wrong.

It does mean that when there is a possibility of understanding something in a better light, it is a positive thing to do so. But it also means that you are not supposed to be in denial.


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