Assuming the Best of Others
Do these statements resonate with you? Do they sound familiar?
“You’re just doing that to spite me!”
“You’re trying to make me miserable! Why can’t you just let me have some fun?!”
Accusations like these are often thrown around during family and marital arguments. People often lash out at their loved ones when they feel angry, sad or offended. When our defenses come up, we often think the worst of the person sitting across from us and view anything they say or do through a negative lens. When parents don’t grant permission to their child to attend an event due to worries about possible unsafe or inappropriate activities, a teen may see this as an attempt to stifle his independence or as an indication that her parents don’t trust her. When a husband leaves his dirty socks on the floor, his wife may view this as an attempt to purposely give her more work or as a sign of disrespect.
Try to picture an alternative: What if we gave everyone in our lives the benefit of the doubt? Hamdun al-Qassar, one of the great early Muslims said, “If a friend among your friends errs, make seventy excuses for him. If your hearts are unable to do this, then know that the shortcoming is in your own selves.” (Imam Bayhaqi) This statement gives us a great deal to consider. Rather than assuming the worst intention of someone, try to do the opposite. If you struggle with this exercise, realize that this is something to work on for the sake of your relationships as well as your own happiness and satisfaction in life. It can be incredibly tiring to think that people are “out to get you.” When you think about the positive intentions of others, you suddenly feel more loved and supported rather than targeted and disliked.
The Prophet (sala Allahu ‘alayhi wa salam) said, “A believer is a mirror of the believer.” (Abu Dawud) In the midst of a disagreement, when your spouse or parent says something, flip the tables and ask yourself, “If I said something like that while feeling upset, what would I really mean by it?” This exercise in empathy, or putting yourself into the other person’s shoes, can work wonders in a relationship. When your husband leaves his socks on the floor, put yourself in his shoes and give him an excuse. Tell yourself, “He’s probably exhausted and had a long day at work and wasn’t paying attention to where he put his socks.” When your parents don’t give you permission to attend an event or party, think about it from their perspective. Tell yourself, “I know that everything they do is because they love me so they must be really worried that something might happen to me at this party.” When you attribute positive intentions to those you love, this also reflects positively on you and the entire relationship.
Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) tells us, “Believers! Leave much doubt, for most doubt is sinful.” (49:12) Doubt and thinking the worst of others is poisonous to relationships. Suddenly, every little action and statement becomes a source of distress and anger. Instead, consider the statement of the Prophet (sala Allahu ‘alayhi wa salaam): “None of you believes until they wish for others as they wish for themselves.” (Abu Dawud and Tirmidhi) We all hope to be given the benefit of the doubt and we would like others to assume that we have the best intention in mind even when we say or do inconsiderate things. Why, then, do we struggle to assume the best of others? Take the time to reflect on the last argument you had with a loved one and how changing your perspective about their intent can lead to a more fruitful, happier and more positive relationship insha’Allah.