My sister-in-law posted a piece by DEI trainer Madison Butler on LinkedIn this week that started, “I always keep the receipts. As a Black woman, I feel compelled to keep every receipt, document everything I do, preserve every paper trail. I delete nothing. I throw nothing away … When Black women talk about racism, homophobia or other abuses we deal with, people demand to see the receipts.
That is the writing of someone who does not expect to be given the benefit of the doubt. I think of the benefit of the doubt as that little bit of grace we give each other – that split second of waiting to hear what life is like for someone before passing judgment or taking action based on our own assumptions. Maybe grace (unearned blessings) can only come from God, but the benefit of the doubt comes from other humans. It comes from listening. You don’t actually know whether what they are saying is true, but you take a moment to imagine that it is. Why? Perhaps because it is kind. Because it MIGHT be true. Because even if it isn’t true, perhaps it is what the speaker THINKS is true. Because we want people to believe US when we are talking!
We don’t want to have to keep receipts for everything.
So much hinges on it.
I thought of this in 2020, when it seemed like we were watching one police shooting of an unarmed black man after another. The police officers’ justification was, almost always, “I thought he was dangerous.” Or “I thought my life was in danger.” That thinking was the result of a lifetime of racist messages the officers had received, much more than anything the person was doing at the moment (particularly if they were already in handcuffs or on the ground). They were not giving the benefit of the doubt.
So I can understand why my sister-in-law posted that piece about keeping receipts. For her, it could be survival. And it must be just exhausting.
Doing divorce mediation is asking spouses who are in conflict to give each other the benefit of the doubt. I’m asking people to work together and to see the world through the eyes of someone they no longer trust. I’m asking them to see past their feelings of anger or betrayal so they can work out a financial arrangement and a parenting plan with the other person. Sometimes it’s just too hard.
But you don’t have to be getting divorced to experience this. When I’m in an argument, I’m yelling my side of the story so loud that I no longer care what the other person is saying. I just want to be heard. I just want to be right!!!
We suspend belief every time we watch a TV show or see a movie or read a book – we go along with the story even though we know it isn’t true. Doesn’t it seem like we should give the same courtesy to the people right in front of us? It’s not easy but at some point you have to take a step back and listen to that little voice inside that’s telling you, “what if they are right?” Am I being too naïve?