270- Benefit of the Doubt

Do you give others the benefit of the doubt? When other people disappoint you do you cut them some slack? Today I want to talk about why it’s important to give people some grace, and how it can make you happier with yourself.

“Everywhere, at each moment, you have the option: to accept this event with humility; to treat this person as they should be treated; to approach this thought with care, so that nothing irrational creeps in.”

—Marcus Aurelius

My Story

One of the things that went wrong in my last relationship was that I was not very good about giving my ex-partner the benefit of the doubt. When we would have arguments I would often take what she said and twist it into something that was done to hurt me. I would often assume that actions she did that took that I didn’t care for would done out of spite or meanness.

She often complained that I didn’t give her the benefit of the doubt. That I was so sure what she meant by what she said or what she did, and unfortunately, it was usually that I assumed the worst, and gave everything a negative spin. And to be honest, she was correct.

Now, the reason why we reached this state of affairs was because of me. Having grown up in a culture where I had to conform to fit in, whenever things got challenging, I would always try to figure out what I thought was the right thing to say was so that I didn’t get into trouble. This meant that rather than telling the truth about what I thought about something, I would try to figure out the answer that would please the other person, in this case, my ex-partner.

But the thing is, when you live this way, you erode trust with other people, especially those closest to you. When you are constantly lying about how you feel and what you think, it makes it challenging if not impossible for someone to trust you.

What happens in this situation is that the person who has to pretend to be something they’re not feels resentful because they feel like they can’t be themselves. The person that is being lied to is resentful because they feel like they pretender doesn’t trust them, and that they cannot trust the pretender.

To put it mildly, this creates a very unhealthy relationship dynamic. Even if you love the other person deeply, and you want things to work, this kind of dynamic doesn’t foster trust on either side.

I know this is a bit of tangent, but I want you to understand where I’m coming from so that when I dive into what things you can do to be more graceful with people, you can understand how I got to place where I really had to make an effort to work on this. I’ve talked to other people who’ve grown up in similar situations and they’ve talked about how they’ve had similar relationship issues. I hope that by sharing some of these things, that if you see yourself in a similar situation, you might be able to learn from my mistakes.

Road to Ruin

What happens when we don’t give others the benefit of the doubt is that we can ruin relationships. It erodes trust because other people feel like they can’t make mistakes around us. Because we assume the worst of them, they feel like they can’t be vulnerable around us. It means that they can’t have a bad day around us when they aren’t at their best.

When we don’t give others the benefit of the doubt, it also makes them less willing to want to give us some grace when we’re not at our best. This may not even be a conscious act on their part, but more that they start to become protective of themselves. When others, especially those who are close to us, feel like they cannot be vulnerable around us they put up emotional barricades to keep us out because we aren’t safe.


“It is our own opinions that disturb us. Take away these opinions then, and resolve to dismiss your judgment about an act as if it were something grievous, and your anger is gone.”

—Marcus Aurelius

One reason why we may not give others the benefit of the doubt is that we are so sure what we know what the the other person really means by something they do or say. We assume that our judgement about them is correct, regardless of what they do or say to explain themselves or their actions. And really this is just us projecting our thoughts and opinions on someone else.

In my case, I would project what I thought my ex partner thought of me onto every word and action. Not what she really thought of me, but I what I assumed she thought of me. Since we can never truly know what others think of us, I would assume what she thought of me, and unfortunately, because I was so hard on myself and didn’t think that I was all that great of a person, I just assumed that she felt the same way. I was so sure that I knew the truth it didn’t matter how much she protested and tried to tell me what she really thought.


“The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.”

— William James

So why is it important that we give others the benefit of the doubt?

We are all fallible and make mistakes in our lives. Just as we want others to give us some grace when we screw up, we should be willing to do the same for others. None of us are perfect and none of us will ever do everything perfectly. In order for us to get along with others in the world, we need to be willing to trust others, and let them make mistakes.

When we don’t cut others some slack, then they will usually start to disconnect from us, and feel like they have to protect themselves from us. What might have been once a warm and caring relationship, becomes more fraught with distrust and full of resentment. Even in professional relationships assuming the worst of others makes it challenging when you need trust to help each other in challenging situations. I know that I was far more willing to step up and go the extra mile for managers who I felt were kind to me when I messed up. I was also far more willing to step up and own my mistakes when I felt like there was room to do so.

Face Value

“When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: the people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil.”

— Marcus Aurelius

One of the things that we should be willing to do is to take others at face value. Now this is not an easy thing to do because we will often try to read into what other people actions mean or interpret what they say to have some other kinds of meaning. In most cases we’re just better off taking people at face value, and trust them until we have reason not to.

Now in my case this has been challenging. Because the environment I grew up in was never really about being honest about how you felt, you felt like you could never really trust what someone else was saying. At church you never really spoke about your real opinion on something, but rather found the right answers so that everyone thought you were a good member. It was about saying and doing all the right things in front of the right people.

At home, with my father, it was about making sure that when he was angry about something that I figured out the right thing to say to try and calm him down so I didn’t get hit. Both of these factors taught me that people can’t be trusted because they will say what the need to say, and not what they really mean.

When we decide to take people at face value, there will be those who lie to us. In most cases, it doesn’t cause us harm to let them. For example, someone might break a date with us and make up some excuse for it rather than simply telling us they’re not interested in us anymore. We could get upset and call them out on it but what good would that do? The end result is still the same, and it doesn’t do us any good to think poorly of them. I think we’re better off being a little more gracious than assuming bad intentions of others.

And funny enough, I’ve had situations where I ran into people who had broken off dates with me, and because I handled it graciously at the time, they owned up to why they broke things off. A few became friends because they felt like they could trust me.

Self Compassion

Ironically, one of the ways that we can get better about giving others the benefit of the doubt is to practice self compassion. Often the reason we don’t cut others slack when they need it is because we don’t do the same to ourselves. When we make a mistake, often we can be very harsh on ourselves, and beat ourselves up for our screw ups.

Often we aren’t kind to ourselves because we have low self esteem and we carry a sense of shame about ourselves. When we carry a deep sense of shame, we feel like we are a bad person and need to be punished when we mess up. While we need to accept the consequences for our actions and do our best to fix things when we screw up, shame pushes us beyond that to a point where it becomes unhelpful and even destructive.

When we practice self compassion, we are better able to step up and take responsibility for our actions. We’re able to see that just because we made a mistake it doesn’t mean that we are a bad person. While our actions might have been harmful, we recognize that we are not our actions, and we can step up and do our best to fix the situation. When we can have that kind of compassion for ourselves, we are better able to extend that to others as well. It’s like when we practice it on ourselves, it’s easier to give it to others.


Giving others the benefit of the doubt is something that can go a long way in helping others to trust us. It can help create stronger relationships where they can be vulnerable with us. It also helps us assume the best of others, and if you’re like me, I know that I really appreciate it when others assume the best of me. Giving each other some grace, and cutting each other more slack would go a long way in repairing some of the rifts that we see in society. It would mean that we could be more tolerant and forgiving for each other when we are not at our best, and as we all know, no one is ever always at their best.

Coffee Break philosophy self-improvement stoicism

173 – Change Your Perspective, Change Your World

Change your Perspective, Change Your World

Before I begin today’s episode, I want to let you know that I’ll be discussing an attempted suicide. While I believe in talking about things honestly and directly, I know that this topic can be difficult for some people.

“It is not so much what happens to you as how you think about what happens.”

– Epictetus

This last week I read a very powerful and moving story about a baseball player name Drew Johnson. Growing up, baseball was one of the most important things in Drew’s life. In his professional career he bounced around in the minor leagues, occasionally being called in to play in the major leagues. But even when he was succeeding, Drew still felt like a failure. Last spring, after years of struggling with his mental health, Drew tried to take his own life, but to his surprise and luck he failed.

After having survived a bullet wound in his head, Drew was surprised to find himself still alive the next day. It had been almost 20 hours. As he sat there thinking about his situation, he held the gun in one hand, and his phone in the other with 911 typed in. He had a choice: he could use the gun to finish what he started, or he could hit the green dial button and call for help. As he weighed his options, Drew suddenly had the will to live. He decided that the fact that he had survived this long meant that he was supposed to stay alive. He had to figure how why, and what he should do with this second chance.

When he called 911, the operator was surprised that he was still alive after 20 hours. The police quickly arrived to check on the situation.  As they waited for the ambulance, an officer asked him why he had tried to kill himself. He said, “Because I hate myself.”

“When you arise in the morning think of what a privilege it is to be alive, to think, to enjoy, to love.”

– Marcus Aurelius

The next morning when Drew woke up from surgery, he felt gratitude and love: towards his family and friends, the breath in his lungs, even the blanket that was keeping him warm in recovery. The failed attempt had given him a clarity in his life that many people never find. He found a new courage of being as honest as possible to everyone in his life. He tells them how much he loves them. When he struggles he talks about his emotions instead of keeping them hidden. He makes the most of his second chance.

Drew takes responsibility for himself and his actions. He doesn’t blame others for his choices. When his parents asked what they could have done to stop him from trying to kill himself, he said, “Nothing. It was my responsibility, not yours.” When asked how they could have missed the signs, he said “Because I worked hard to hide my sadness.”

“Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart.”

– Marcus Aurelius

It’s taken months of steady work for Drew to recover. There are good and bad days, but he’s grateful for them all. And what was amazing to me is to see how once Drew’s perspective on himself and his life changed, how he was better able to handle the circumstances of his life. In fact, his life in many ways should be harder than before. He lost his right eye to the bullet that entered his head. He has scars on his face from the many surgeries.

For some, such challenges and pain would weigh them down, and possibly make them withdraw even further. Drew found that by opening up and being vulnerable and asking for help, he has built a strong network of support for himself. This has also helped members of his family to open up and share their own struggles that they were ashamed to admit and to seek help as well. His relationships with his family and his girlfriend are closer than they have ever been. To him, every day is a good day to be alive.

When Drew talks about his experience, he doesn’t glorify what happened, but recognizes what he learned from it. He embraces his fate. “I was supposed to go through that. I’m supposed to help people get through battles that don’t seem winnable. It was completely supposed to happen. There’s no other answer. It doesn’t make any sense. It was supposed to happen. I’m free now. I shot myself, but I killed my ego.”

“Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself in your way of thinking.”

– Marcus Aurelius

In the last episode, I talked about how to be responsible for our own emotions and actions. We do this by making active choices in our lives. We may not like our options. We may not have many options. But we always have the ability to make a choice.  When we can recognize this, and actively choose, we are taking control of our lives. If we don’t actively choose, then we are simply reacting to life. We are allowing ourselves to be acted upon. We are letting ourselves become victims.

Once Drew changed his perspective, he saw the things he had control over and took control of them. He makes a choice each day to be honest with himself and those around him. He chooses not to feel shame or to hide what happened, but instead shares his story in the hope that it can help others who are struggling. He tells himself and others that asking for help is not a sign of weakness. That it’s OK to not be OK.

Most of us will never have to experience something like what Drew went through. But we can learn that how we view ourselves and the challenges in our lives is far more important than the actual circumstances. We can also recognize that when we are struggling, we can reach out for support and help.

Not everyone one that attempts suicide are as lucky as Drew. Sometimes things can feel so painful and overwhelming that suicide feels like the only way out. If you are struggling, please know that there are people everywhere who are willing to help and support you. Reach out to friends or family if you have someone you can trust. You can also call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or at

Drew Johnson’s Remarkable Second Act

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Coffee Break

152 – Vulnerability and the Real You

Vulnerability and the Real You


Get Uncomfortable With Yourself!

Why is it hard for us to be vulnerable, especially when it comes to those we care about the most? Partners, children, family, close friends – if these are the people we are the closest to why would be afraid to be ourselves around them? In this weeks episode we’ll talk about vulnerability and the real you.

One of the hardest things in this world is to be vulnerable around others. To show people the messy, honest, truest parts of ourselves. And why is this? Why are we often so afraid to be ourselves around those that we consider the closest to us? If these are the most important people in our lives, why do we feel like we need to protect ourselves and not share the deepest, darkest, and most intimate parts of ourselves?

Who do You Think You Are?

“I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinions of himself than on the opinions of others.”

—Marcus Aurelius

I talked about this quote on here before, with regards to worrying about the opinions of others, but I want to talk more about the opinions of ourselves.

A few weeks ago I was discussing the idea of identity with a good friend of mine. He’s struggling at the moment with figuring out who he is and who he wants to be. Basically, he’s going through a midlife crisis. In talking about letting go of all the expectations that were heaped upon him by his family and church while growing up, he feels a bit lost because he lived with a mask, an identity of who he felt like he was supposed to be for most of his life. Over the last few years, he’s been shedding a lot of those ideas and beliefs, and while he knows who he isn’t, he’s not sure who he is. Just as people who’ve suffered job losses or divorce and other kinds of loss, often find themselves lost as a core piece of their identity is gone. He’s struggling through this difficult process of self-exploration and is finding it both exciting and very scary. Exciting because he’s exploring the world and beginning to choose who he is, but also extremely scary because the identity he has is no longer reflective of who he truly is.

And this idea really struck me, that when we hold on so tightly to an identity of who we think we are, it makes is very difficult to become who we want to become. When we’ve built up an identity, and presented this idea of who we are to the world, then when we find discrepancies with that identity, we try to defend who we think we are. And I think holding onto this identity, the ego, is the root of why being vulnerable is so scary. Because much of this identity is created from the expectations that we think others, especially those that we love, have about us. Whether or not these have been explicitly communicated or not, I think that many of us feel like we’re supposed to behave a certain way and do certain things. We’re afraid if they knew that we aren’t necessarily the person we present to the world, and if they knew how deeply flawed we truly are, they might reject us. They may no longer love us. But the thing is, we judge ourselves more harshly than those around us. We think they notice every flaw, count every mistake, and keep a tally of every fuck up we make. But the truth is, they don’t. Most people are too busy with their own thinking and their own business pay that much attention to someone else. And if they are that kind of person, they aren’t people we want to be around. If their love and acceptance are conditional, they are probably not people that we want to spend time with.

Unapologetically You

“Above all, keep a close watch on this — that you are never so tied to your former acquaintances and friends that you are pulled down to their level. If you don’t, you’ll be ruined. … You must choose whether to be loved by these friends and remain the same person, or to become a better person at the cost of those friends … if you try to have it both ways you will neither make progress nor keep what you once had.”

— Epictetus, “Discourses,” 4.2.1; 4-5

What would happen if you were just unapologetically yourself? What if you didn’t hold onto this identity so tightly? This is a scary proposition for sure. I know in my own life, I find it often difficult to admit what I truly think or feel about something for fear of being rejected by friends and loved ones. But we should be open to the idea that being truly ourselves may mean that we need to change our lives. We may need to end friendships. We may get divorced. And that’s scary. That may mean a lot of change. Far too often we hold onto these identities far longer than they are useful, often to the point of damaging ourselves and relationships. I’ve seen friends stay in relationships that were not working for fear of change. I’ve done this myself. But living your life as someone else means that you may get to the end of your life never having really lived.

Brené Brown, a social scientist and researcher, has delved into the area of vulnerability rather deeply, and written several eye-opening books on the sense of shame that we internalize which keep us from loving and being okay with the person that we truly are. It’s this fear of rejection and a sense of shame that others will judge us that makes it so hard for us to share that deeper side of us with those that we love.

“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”

― Brené Brown, Daring Greatly

What if we could own our flaws and just recognize them as a fact, that they are simply an attribute of who we are at this moment? How much more confident could we be in our life if we could just accept who we are, warts and all? The first step to being vulnerable is to learn how to love ourselves. I know that sounds all kinds of new-agey, but think that there’s a lot of truth in this. If we don’t like ourselves, then it’s going to be hard for us to accept that others can like us.

Now self-acceptance doesn’t mean that we give ourselves a free pass when we make mistakes, because that is much more about self-delusion and ignoring our mistakes. What I’m proposing is shine a light on our flaws, and own them. When we can do that, we take away the shame of our flaws. Self-love is the shame killer. The more we can accept ourselves, and see ourselves as we truly are, the easier it is to be forgiving and accepting of others.

Get Uncomfortable with Yourself

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”

― Brené Brown, Daring Greatly

I want you to take some time this week and write down some of the uncomfortable and scary thoughts that you have running around in the back of your mind. Things that you’re afraid that if others knew about you, they may not like you. Things that you’re afraid of addressing because you’re afraid of where those thoughts might take you. And I want you to take some time and just sit with those thoughts, and practice being okay with them. Look at them without judgment, just as facts about you. Admit those truths to yourself, because I think we all lie to ourselves to some degree. We gloss over the uncomfortable parts, the dark parts of us because we want to present this beautiful picture to the world. We’re scared of what others might think about the darker parts of us. We want to look like we have it all together. It’s okay if we don’t. Nobody really does. Everybody has some area of their life where they struggle.

And the thing is, we often find that those things aren’t really so bad once they put down on paper. They are much scarier and darker in our heads. Getting them out and on paper is like shining a light on a shadow. It’s not nearly as big or scary as we made it out to be.

Owning who you are is a very uncomfortable thing. It means that you accept that you are full of flaws, that you aren’t nearly as great want others to think you are, and that you let other people down. It means may mean making choices that shake the very core of who you think you are. It means that those closest to you may not even recognize who you really are. But if they only see the person that you pretend to be, do they really love the real you? Why not give them the chance to know the real you? Why not give yourself the chance to know the real you?


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