Giving Others The Benefit Of The Doubt

Giving Others The Benefit Of The Doubt

There’s a​ saying in​ aikido, “There are many lessons on​ the mat.” it​ means that when we’re practicing aikido we’re not just learning aikido, we’re also learning about life. for​ example, when someone grabs my wrist too hard and​ I get angry but don’t say anything, I eventually learn that it​ would be more useful to​ ask him not to​ grab so hard. I may also notice that it’s difficult for​ me to​ ask for​ what I want in​ other places in​ my life, that I suffer needlessly because of​ it, and​ that I blame others and​ justify my blaming instead of​ taking action. Many lessons . . .

I swim daily and​ notice that I have a​ new saying, similar to​ the aikido one, that goes “There are many lessons in​ the pool.” Every day I seem to​ have another internal learning adventure.

An example of​ this​ is​ the lane partner dilemma. Some swimmers are easy and​ quiet as​ they cut through the water; others splash. Some swim straight and​ stay in​ their own part of​ the lane, leaving plenty of​ room. Others flail and​ lunge, seemingly unaware that there is​ anyone else around. Just like in​ aikido, with some partners cooperation​ is​ easy. as​ if​ we were dancing, we know the timing and​ the moves and​ we flow easily with each other. With others it’s messy, and​ we’re stepping on​ each other’s toes all the time. Ever feel this​ way? at​ the pool, as​ in​ aikido, I find I can make the situation​ messier or​ easier depending on​ my attitude and​ actions.

Lesson​ #1: I am given many dance partners in​ life. Whether the dance is​ easy or​ difficult is​ influenced at​ least in​ part by me.

Please Pick Another Lane.

Which brings me to​ Lesson​ #2. One of​ the “difficult partners” seems to​ like to​ swim with me. I can’t figure it​ out. Even when there’s an​ empty lane, he gets in​ mine. He swims more slowly than I do, so I have to​ wait for​ him or​ double back so as​ not to​ “pass” him, which we’re not allowed to​ do at​ our pool. He splashes and​ his swimming is​ erratic, his arms swinging way out to​ the side and​ occasionally accidentally hitting me. When I see him coming I think, Oh no, please pick another lane. But he doesn’t.

One morning I came to​ the pool late and​ this​ gentleman was already swimming. There was an​ open lane next to​ his, and​ I sat on​ the edge and​ was doing my warm-ups when he came up for​ air. He looked over and​ motioned to​ me that he was getting out and​ I could have his lane. I thanked him but stayed where I was. I had a​ lane. He explained that he really liked his lane because there were no jets gushing water into the pool. The jets are very strong and​ bother him. The lane he was in​ – the lane I usually swim in​ – doesn’t have them. Aha! I say to​ myself. He doesn’t get into my lane just to​ annoy me. He dislikes the other lanes. and​ now he’s trying to​ give me the “good” lane. What a​ nice person!

Lesson​ #2: It’s not always about me.

The Benefit of​ the Doubt.

A third lesson​ from the pool is​ that people surprise me if​ I let them. Recently I got into the hot tub (“many lessons in​ the hot tub”) to​ relax after my swim. There was a​ man in​ there swishing his legs back and​ forth really hard, churning the water into waves. I closed my eyes and​ leaned against the edge of​ the tub and​ tried to​ mellow out. Impossible. I opened my eyes and​ looked at​ him, hoping he would see that he was disturbing me. Oblivious. I closed my eyes again. Getting worse. I was practically drowning in​ the churning hot water. I opened my eyes and​ looked again. Oblivious. I sighed out loud. Nope.

Okay, time to​ either get out of​ the tub or​ say something. I remembered that curiosity usually works better than accusation, and​ I asked, “Is that an​ exercise you’re doing?” He noticed me and​ smiled – a​ really nice smile – and​ said that yes, it​ was an​ exercise recommended by his doctor. He used to​ jog, loved jogging, but his knees could no longer support that activity. in​ fact, his knees could barely support walking, and​ swimming was one of​ the few things that helped; the swooshing motion​ strengthened the ligaments. He went on​ to​ talk about jogging, swimming, disappointment and​ his efforts to​ reinvigorate his knees and​ stay in​ shape. What a​ nice man, I thought.

Lesson​ #3: People usually have a​ positive intention. Give them the benefit of​ the doubt.

The benefit of​ the doubt: what does it​ mean? What doubt? Well, as​ I swim up and​ back and​ up and​ back I think it​ must mean giving other people the benefit that derives from doubting my preconceived notions about their motives. is​ he really getting in​ my lane just to​ annoy me? Probably not. is​ he churning up the water to​ keep others out? I think I’ll doubt that assumption​ and​ see what happens.

Usually what happens is​ that I discover a​ genuinely nice person​ behind the fog of​ my assumptions and​ have a​ really fun swim.

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