The Benefit of the Doubt

The following poem may be disturbing to some readers. The examples given are fictional.

Some people seem to have everything we want and don’t have. We might not be eager to change places with them if we knew their secret heartaches.

Many people have problems we don’t know about that would explain their negative behavior. Some may need professional help in solving their problems. Others could benefit from just a little kindness and understanding. Judging them isn’t helpful.

Although people must be held accountable for their actions, some circumstances call for a little leniency. Everyone accused of a crime deserves due process.

Photo by Khadeejah Yasser from Unsplash

The Benefit of the Doubt

Give everyone you encounter

the benefit of the doubt.

You don’t know all their circumstances,

and maybe you’ll never find out!

Photo by Zach Lucero from Unsplash

The woman who wears too much makeup

may be trying to hide

bumps and bruises inflicted

by her drunken husband last night.

That student who sleeps in school

may have spent the night

listening to his mother and her boyfriend

have a knock-down, drag-out fight.

Photo Courtesy of allgo-an-app-for-plus-size-people from Unsplash

That girl who weighs too much

may be comforting herself with food

over nightmares of childhood abuse,

and diets don’t do any good.

The boy who robbed the liquor store

has never harmed a fly.

He may be raising money for treatments

and hoping his mother won’t die.

Photo by Brent Gorwin from Unsplash

That guy who brews your coffee

may be sleeping in his car

and feeding an addiction that takes

all he earns at the coffee bar.

The man who hanged himself

maybe hadn’t figured out yet

any way to repay the bookie

an overdue gambling debt.

Photo by Matthew Schwartz from Unsplash

Give everyone you encounter

the benefit of the doubt.

You don’t know all their circumstances,

and maybe you’ll never find out.


Copyright© 2020 by Cheryl Batavia

83 Comments

    1. Ramya, it is so true that events are often much “gorier.” I tried to communicate the ideas without being too graphic. This poem is a little darker than what I usually write, but it is one of those poems that woke me up in the middle of the night. Thank you again for your kind comments. ❤

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  1. This is really good, Cheryl. There was a quote I’d read the other day : “Understand this: You can sound confident and have anxiety. You can look healthy but feel like shit. You can look happy and be miserable inside. You can be good looking and feel ugly. So be kind, because every person is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” -Unknown

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    1. Thank you for sharing your kind thoughts. ❤ When I was teaching in inner-city schools, the more I learned about my students' problems, the easier it became to understand their behavior. The first year I taught, I had nightmares about it. Although we can never know everything about another person, I think it is worthwhile to try to understand. Take care, Cheryl

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    1. Thank you, Diana, for your insightful comment. ❤ I like that you pointed out that "everyone is not the same." That is probably the main reason why it is so difficult to understand others. I think that understanding a person with problems is the first step in getting them the help they need. Have a great day! Cheryl 🙂

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    1. Thank you, Pankanzy for your thoughtful comment. I totally agree that not everything can be justified by understanding why people behave as they do. ❤ As I said in the introduction, people must be held accountable for their actions. Empathy is helpful to the person whose behaviors are problematic, but it is even more beneficial to us. Empathy frees us from our own negative feelings toward others.

      All the best! Cheryl

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  2. Beautiful Cheryl. A powerful message delivered with such heart. Our snap judgments are almost always wrong. No one knows another persons true story. Forgiveness, compassion and understanding are the way forward. Always. Thanks Cheryl. Wishing you well 🙏

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  3. More people need to read this poem. People too often judge others from what they see on the surface instead of what’s underneath. The world would be a much better place if we all saw humans as souls instead of bodies – so many things like racism wouldn’t exist then.

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    1. Thank you for your wonderful, astute comment, thewheelchairteen! ❤ You are so right about seeing people "as souls instead of bodies!" The world would be a much better place if discrimination and racism didn't exist! Wishing you a great day! Cheryl

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  4. Great write Cheryl, truely very nice! If the whole world should magically change like this, it would be such a beautiful place to inhabit. As you mention, to hold someone accountable he/ she needs to be judged, but the judgement should be delivered with knowledge of both sides of the coin, over needs to stand in the others shoes to understand the others circumstances.
    I am reminded of two books which are very dear to me, not directly related, but there were related aspects.
    1. To sir with love – by E R Braithwaite.
    2. To kill a mockingbird – Harper Lee.

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    1. Thank you so much, Deb, for your well-reasoned response. I am grateful to you for your support, and I am glad you liked the post. ❤

      Utopia is a beautiful ideal, but I believe that change comes first in individual hearts and minds. Good leaders can help to accelerate positive changes. I am hoping they soon appear on the scene!

      Thank you for sharing the two books. I have read To Kill a Mockingbird, but not To Sir with Love. I have seen both movies several times, and think they are both excellent. Their themes of equality and justice make them dear to me as well.

      We are still having incidents here of police killing suspects who pose no threat to them, allowing no chance of a fair trial for the accused. Violence is deliberately incited at the highest level. Corruption and violence are present to a degree not seen since the fifties. Combine that with the pandemic, and you have a truly horrific era.

      I wish you and your family all the best! A brighter future for all! Cheryl

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      1. I read of these incidents from all around the world with increased distress Cheryl! And keep dreaming of the Utopia you mention, hope we get there sometime – but currently we seem to be running away from that.

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    1. Eliza, with a little effort and patience, we can know a little bit about a person. I know you to be an intelligent, compassionate person with a lot of determination. And I admire all of that. ❤ 🙂 ❤ ❤ 🙂 ****** Cheryl

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    1. Thank you, Pene, for your kind comments and good wishes! ❤ I agree that forgiveness is important. 🙂 Being forgiven helps you forgive yourself and become a better person. Forgiving someone else removes grudges and puts your mind at peace. And you are right…"if only we could." Sometimes it is hard to forgive. All the best! Cheryl

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  5. Not only all of the above…but also – poems are a literary art form that can and often should touch on ‘sensitive’ subjects…so while I understand your reticence on how it might have been received, it was written well and speaks to everyday issues that sometimes are overlooked.
    You pulled it off without sounding judgemental – the very issue you’re addressing!

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    1. Laura, Your kind and well-considered response is very much appreciated. I had put the poem aside several times but finally decided to post it because I believed the issues are important and timely. Thank you again for reading and sharing your views. ❤ All the best! Cheryl

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  6. Loved reading this poem Cheryl. Indeed we sometimes ignore those around us for our musings. We sometimes become selfish and wilfully take them for granted. An eye opening poem. Thank you so much for sharing. 😇

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    1. Thank you for sharing your kind thoughts on the poem. 🙂 I agree that we are often oblivious to the problems of those around us. We judge them based on surface factors and move on. I very much appreciate your taking the time to read and comment. ❤ All the best! Cheryl

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  7. We really never know what others are going/have gone through unless they choose to tell us. Even then, they might not even realize what things are really causing their own emotions and behaviors, I know sometimes it took me years to realize why I acted in certain ways or did certain things, and I still haven’t figured out some of it lol.

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    1. Maranda, Thank you so much for your thoughtful response. ❤ I totally agree with you that we can never fully understand ourselves or others. But we can gain some insight and understanding. Simply being aware that there are reasons for behavior allows us to be kind to ourselves and others. Thank you again for sharing your valuable comments. All the best! Cheryl

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    1. Chetna, thank you for sharing your thoughts. ❤ Your comment about the coffee seller shows a kind heart. ❤ There are people we see every day. We are friendly enough with them, but the conversation rarely goes beyond pleasantries. Some people may ignore them or even be rude. I think we should always be kind in our brief interactions with people. Saying "Thank you" costs us nothing, and a smile is free. That is the least we can do. 🙂 Take care, Cheryl

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  8. Your poem touched my heart & now I feel that how quickly people jump to the assumptions and judge others & how difficult it would have been for the them who are still suffering from this or have suffered from this. Also, thinking about such problems & penning them down in such a beautiful way is not an easy job but you truly nailed it. Huge respect & love to you, Cheryl❣️

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    1. Jahnvi, thank you so much for your beautiful and generous words. ❤ I truly appreciate your taking the time to read and respond! Yes, it was hard for me to write about these issues, but I felt that they needed to be discussed. 🙂
      All the best! Stay safe and be happy! Cheryl

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  9. Wonderful words! Immediately brought to mind John 8:10-11 “When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.”

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    1. Thank you, William, for sharing this example of not condemning others and of forgiveness. Forgiveness is a wonderful thing! Being forgiven and forgiving yourself allows you to become a better person. Forgiving others brings peace of mind. All the best! Cheryl

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  10. Loved the beauty of your paradigm in this poem. None is the villain in their own story, perhaps they are just trying to do their best according to their situation and circumstances. Well done Cheryl! 🤗👏

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