Do You Assume the Best or the Worst? And a Barking Lady

Do You Assume Best or Worst?

I double-checked my notes. The call number for the library book was correct. But where was the book? I’d check the next row of books in case it had been shelved wrong by mistake.

That’s when I heard the noise. A loud bark. Right in my ear.

I jerked around . . . to find a woman brush past me, not a dog. In the middle of the library on the second floor.

She smirked after barking. Then walked away.  

A different woman and man came rushing up to me. They asked, “Did that woman just bark at you, too?” They were clearly disturbed.

I knew I had options for my response.

We almost always have options, even when we’re not aware of them.

The Agreements

In 2014, I read a small book of Toltec wisdom by Don Miguel Ruiz called The Four Agreements. (I recommend it.)

Ruiz shares four statements he lives by. They are virtuous and consistent with Jesus’s teachings. (Read Ruiz’s four agreements here.)

After I finished the book, I tweaked them to fit my own relationship with God. I created my own four agreements between me and God.

I wrote them on a sticky note and have had them on my bedroom mirror ever since. I don’t live them as well as I’d like, but I’m not finished yet.

My first agreement is this:

# 1. Give others the benefit of the doubt.

[Here are all four agreements.
1-Give the benefit of the doubt | 2-Let go of being right | 3-Don’t take it personally | 4-Just show up]

But how? How can we practically give others the benefit of the doubt?


5 Ways to Give the Benefit of the Doubt

1. Create a Better Story

It’s not easy. We’re wired to distrust uncertainty.

So when we don’t know the whole story (which we rarely do), our mind fills in the gaps. And we don’t naturally assume innocent until proven guilty.

Instead of assuming the best, we think:

  • My husband must hate my new haircut because he said nothing about it.
  • My friend just wants to justify her sin because she interprets a scripture differently than I do.
  • The world is against me because we had a flat tire as we were leaving for a trip.

But if we really don’t know, why not create a good story instead of a bad one?

If God really is working for our best, can’t we assume a positive what-if scenario instead of a negative one?

2. Use the Golden Rule

Would we want others assuming the worst motives about us when we do something they don’t understand? No.

We think they should know us better than that.

Can’t we treat others’ motives the same way we want ours to be treated?

3. Let Go of Self-Protection

Often our cynicism arises because we don’t want to be hurt. We want to protect ourselves by staying on the defensive, not risking pain through naiveté or being caught off guard. (I have a fear of being stupid.)

But is skeptical the best way to live?

Sure, we sometimes will get hurt by giving others the benefit of the doubt, but more often we’ll create a brighter world, bringing light into darkness instead of throwing shade.

Safety is an illusion. Take chances with love. And when we get hurt, let’s trust God for ultimate healing.

4. Forget Revenge

When we’ve been treated unfairly, we can grow stingy with doling out forgiveness.

But who among us hasn’t received far more grace than we’ve deserved?

By tuning into the massive doses of grace that God gives us, we can be more open to give more grace to others.

Err on the side of grace instead of judgment. It makes for healthier relationships. And happier ones, too.

5. Do It for You

Lastly, we often show the least grace to ourselves.

Even when we assume the best in others, we may place unrealistic expectations on ourselves. If our bodies get tired or our tongue gets edgy or a relationship turns sour, we blame our laziness or moodiness or stupidity.

Granted, we do need to take responsibility for our actions.

But we also need to give ourselves the benefit of the doubt as well, that we tried, that we wanted the best for everyone. Even though we fail often, God doesn’t abandon us because we tripped up; we shouldn’t abandon ourselves either.

Choose Your Response

I chose to laugh it off in the library, hoping the upset couple would also overcome any fears that the homeless woman would be outside waiting for them.

Although the woman obviously had mental problems, she seemed harmless. She was just getting through life as best she could.

While some people in the world may be out to get us—and yes, let’s be cautious with those!—most of the people in our circles are not.

Like us, most people do the best they can with what they have. God fills in the gaps with his grace.

And the library barker?

I’m agreeing to assume the best, not the worst, about her.

I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt.

* * *

Are you more naturally trusting or skeptical? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Related Reading:

See all 4 agreements (click on individual infographics)

1-Benefit-Doubt 2-Being-Right 3-Take-Personal 4-Show-Up

image map infographics

1-Give the benefit of the doubt | 2-Let go of being right | 3-Don’t take it personally | 4-Just show up

56 thoughts on “Do You Assume the Best or the Worst? And a Barking Lady

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thanks, Valerie. You should be able to click on the image to open it in a new page with full resolution or just right click, then print from there. I appreciate your encouragement!

  1. Michele Morin

    This topic certainly does deserve another post!

    And I’m getting hit with this truth as well from my reading of Never Unfriended. Lisa-Jo hits on the importance of giving our friends the benefit of the doubt.

    And, by the way: the title for this post is most convicting!

  2. Emily

    Wow this is such a good post. I agree with Michele that this would be so good in a series, if you want to write more on the topic. I know am very guilty of assuming the worst, and the verse that has been really convicting me is from 1 Corinthians 13 that says, ‘Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.’ I think I’m too selfish often, and I don’t want to get hurt so I don’t assume the best about others, but thank you for this exhortation in God’s Word. And i’m so thankful that God marvelously heals and restores even when we do get hurt.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thanks for bringing 1 Corinthians 13 into the conversation, Emily. What a perfect text for this subject! Keeping no record of wrongs from the past would definitely help us give others the benefit of the doubt in the present. Bearing, believing, hoping…all these things point us to loving each other better. I’m grateful that God sets the perfect example for us on how to love, regardless.

  3. Donna Reidland

    What a great title! Who doesn’t want to find out about a “barking lady”! 🙂 You are so right about “believing the best.” I think that’s what Paul meant when he said, “love believes all things” in 1 Cor. 13. Thanks for reminding us just how important that is. It’s all to easy to assume the worst! Blessings!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I agree, Donna. I looked up 1 Corinthians 13:7 in other versions, and really like how ERV phrases it: “Love never gives up on people. It never stops trusting, never loses hope, and never quits.” I think that’s definitely giving someone the benefit of the doubt. Granted, there are times we use good judgment in NOT trusting someone that has proven untrustworthy, but that’s a different thing.

  4. Jean Wise

    wow this has got to be one of my favorite posts from you. What wisdom and perfect example. Love the infographic too. Practical and I was going to say easy but in reality will still be a challenge to complete but will work on it. Love the sentence: God fills in the gaps with his grace.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thanks, Jean. It does sound so simple, yes? Just have more faith in people. But definitely easier said than done, I agree. As usual, it has to start with faith in God, then it can trickle down to how we treat others as well.

  5. Ruth

    The Lord was just convicting me recently that I need to give some people the benefit of the doubt, and here I land on this great post!
    Thanks for sharing these great insights!
    I especially like the golden rule advice, and the statement that we should err on the side of grace.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I’m glad the Lord confirmed the message he was already sending to you, Ruth. I really appreciate when the Lord works through repetition to get a message through to me. Sometimes it takes many times and many sources for me to really believe he means it. 🙂

  6. Lux G.

    I assume the best and it always gets me in trouble. haha.

    Thanks for this reminder. I think the world would be a better place if we give each other the benefit of the doubt and not abuse that in return.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, that moment of stepping back, breathing in a new response instead of going with our first response, can make all the difference! I need more practice, too, Jodie. I’m sure God will give us plenty of opportunities to continue practicing. 🙂

  7. Mary Geisen

    More often than not I assume the best of others. It is my personality. I know the barking lady would have startled me and it would take me time to process what that was all about. Giving the benefit of the doubt is not hard but since we are creatures who love to be right we might not take the time to do that. I am looking forward to next Monday. Blessings!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      You (and your friends) are blessed that this comes naturally to you, Mary. I know I appreciate when people give me the benefit of the doubt, and how hurt I can be when they don’t. Hope you have a blessed week, friend!

  8. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

    I would have figured the lady was undergoing some sort of weird initiation or joke, like going to an armourer and asking for a few packages of headspace. (Headspace is the ‘fit’ of a cartridge in the firing chamber, and on weapons with changeable barrels, like a 30-cal MG, it’s adjusted on assembly. If you’re ever changing the barrel on a thirty, screw it all the way in, then back it out two turns, and your headspace should be pretty close.)

    Normally I assume the best, but make provision for the worst based on past experience with an individual or situation.I try to to let this make me seem either guarded or skeptical, because I truly believe that folks want to do their best.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Okay, you lost me there with the gun talk, Andrew. ha. But I know you know what you’re talking about it, so I believe you. 🙂 And you’re also right that we do have to weigh the situation; sometimes assuming the best may mean preparing for the worst based on past experiences.

  9. Pam

    Whoa! Super important topic! I think I have improved about not assuming the worst, but it can sometimes still creep in and with it a host of judgments I would prefer not to own. Thanks for this significant post and powerful truths!

  10. Linda Stoll

    sadly, i tend to be a glass-half-empty person. the good news is that i’m quicker to spy it now than back in the day.

    what a drag we can be when we’re constantly on the edge of disappointment. may God continue to remind us how very very good He has been …

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I think there are some key traits in each of our personalities that we can’t ever shake off totally, but like you, as long as we recognize them quicker and quicker, we’re making progress!

  11. Erin @

    Lisa, I love this! After the shock of being barked at, you gave the benefit of the doubt. You were an excellent Christian witness to the people around you. Libraries are full of searching people, and you were a light to them. Even the check out clerk could have seen your witness and been encouraged to grow closer to the Lord. I often think about the clerks when I go to the library. They see all the Christian books I check out, so I want to show the love. You demonstrated exactly what Christ represented- love and grace.
    Also, thank you for taking time to stop by my blog. Bless you for this post and your encouragement to others.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thanks, Erin. It’s funny now that I can go in and out of the library sometimes never having an interaction with anybody because we have self-checkout now. It’s a loss in many ways. Our public library is particularly full of all kinds of people. It’s a hub for many in our homeless community to come sit in comfort for awhile or use internet or read books. I usually run into someone that I know hanging out there, but the barking lady was new to me. 🙂

      1. Erin @

        Lisa, I thought of your post yesterday. I sat for over two hours getting my hair done, while reading a Christian book. The hairdressers know my beliefs and I always read a Christian book. When I was done, I looked terrible. The new hairstyle aged me by ten years. But, I remembered your post and decided to pay and leave, showing God’s love all the way 🙂

        1. LisaNotes Post author

          This made me laugh, Erin. I almost always feel I look worse after I leave the hairdresser than before. ha. I can’t wait to get home and wash it out and redo it my own way. But how gracious you were to show love there anyway! And I’m sure you look marvelous after all. 🙂

  12. Bev @ Walking Well With God

    As the old saying goes….”Assuming makes an A__ out of you and me.” I’m getting better at not assuming until I hear both sides of a story or argument. How often, I’ve found, I’ve been wrong in my assumptions. Learning, in my old age, the true benefit of giving others the benefit of the doubt. It truly is a gift to self….but aren’t all of God’s commands, when followed, truly a gift to ourselves?? Great post!

  13. Lesley

    This is a great post, Lisa! Generally I think I do naturally assume the best of people but self-protection does kick in at times and I might take a while to trust people on a deeper level.
    I love your point about creating a better story and thinking of a positive what-if scenario rather than a negative one.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thanks, Lesley. I think I grew up for many years being more skeptical of people rather than trusting. At least of some people. But thankfully God has been working on changing that in me the past several years and it is SO much more freeing. I still have work to do on thinking more positive what-if scenarios in general though….

  14. Theresa Boedeker

    The story of the lady barker had me laughing. Sounds like something that would happen to me. Great reasons you outlined for giving others the benefit of the doubt. We also sleep better at night because we are not obsessing and worrying about why someone did something. Your title totally drew me in. Who doesn’t want to hear about a barking lady?

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thanks, Theresa. I was actually at the library again yesterday but I didn’t see the barking lady. Or hear her. 🙂 God bless her path! Who knows what the future holds for any of us. So I want to learn to give the benefit of the doubt to others because I need them to give me the same. Thanks for stopping by.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      What a difference it can make to write a new story, yes? I think of times when I’ve jumped to a wrong conclusion and caused myself undue stress. May God give us wisdom to discern our days. Thanks, Julia.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thanks, Ifeoma. Maybe another time I’ll be able to have a conversation with the lady and hear her story. I’m sure it would be an interesting and enlightening one.

  15. Rosanna@ExtraordinaryEverydayMom

    Such great thoughts and really the way we, as humans, ought to live. It’s funny how we tend to assume so much, but in most cases, we haven’t even communicated properly with the other person. That’s one thing that I’ve really been working on, to communicate with others before assuming.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      “communicate before assuming” – That’s a beautiful goal, Rosanna. Can we even imagine what a difference that could make if we all took that position? I know I would appreciate being on the receiving end of that as well.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thanks, Debbie. Life throws so many weird things our way. I know my eyes are too often closed and need to be opened. I’m grateful we have the Spirit living in us to help us pay attention.

  16. floyd

    Nice job, Lisa. Love this post and the wisdom in it. It points to humility. The older I get the more I come to believe it’s the most beautiful of God’s traits in us.

    Pride makes it impossible to pull off any of those things. Pride is uglier and nastier than a barking dog… or lady.

    Maybe she needed someone to rub behind her ears…

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      ha. She might have appreciated that, Floyd, but I’m not there yet. 🙂 I still have lots of room to grow in humility. Thanks for pointing me that direction time and again; I need and love the reminders.

  17. Leslie

    Lisa, This is a great reminder! I’ve been writing and thinking about giving grace. For true that we need to assume the best in others. I’m looking forward to your other posts in this series.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thanks, Leslie. This is definitely one way to give grace. What a blessing you are to be finding more ways to do that yourself! Everyone is blessed when we send more grace into our world.

  18. Sarah Donegan

    These are tough to do, but we can work on instilling them into our heart. I jump to the wrong conclusion sometimes, but I can learn to step back and try to see it from another angle!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I think we often jump to the wrong conclusion from time to time. But having the ability to pause and look again is invaluable! That’s a blessing, Sarah. I want to grow in that more and more, too.

  19. Sherry Stahl

    This time I’m linking up from #FaithnFriends and I’m still loving your heart for unity. This post is again such wise advice for relationships.
    Be Blessed & Refreshed today knowing your writing is encouraging others to love and live better!
    ~Sherry Stahl

  20. David

    Dear Lisa

    Nice graphic!

    I am getting better at #3 and #5 since I’ve been thinking of myself as a
    Christian. I can’t really understand why or how that should work, but I have to
    admit it’s true. I relate to myself in a different way.

    A public library is a great place to meet and get to know the “great unwashed”. I
    often take the bus into town. Many similar encounters.


    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I don’t always understand how it works either, David. I’m just grateful for God’s mysterious grace that makes things happen for our good. And showing grace to ourselves is often the last lesson for many of us, for some reason. I’m imagining your buses are indeed equivalent gathering places for all humanity, similar to my library. Blessings to you, friend, as you continue to count yourself a Christian.

  21. Leslie

    Loved this, Lisa! And the infographic is fantastic! I ran across it just the other day on Pinterest and I think it is in line to pinned on my boards. I’ll double check just to be sure!

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