the benefit of the doubt

The following may be a bit preachy. But I think it is a worthwhile bit of practical knowledge that I know I have to work to habituate. Maybe you're in the same boat, or maybe you've already perfected the art.

Say you are having a spirited conversation about the best way to apply moral principles to public life. Further stipulate that in the course of this conversation someone say something that you do not understand, something that offends you. Perhaps it evokes deep-seated unpleasant feelings and memories. What is the proper way to respond to such a comment? I submit that you must first make sure you understand what the other person is really trying to say. Ask them to clarify. Then, after you truly understand the intention of their remark, you can properly judge whether it actually deserves the response you were initially inclined to give.

This is commonly called giving someone the benefit of the doubt. Assume that your interlocutor is arguing in good faith and did not mean to offend you. It helps to makes our conversations civil and facilitates real communication. Someone smart once said that most of what we take to be disagreements are really just confusion. Giving someone the benefit of the doubt helps to resolve that confusion so that real true disagreement, if it exists, can be brought to light.

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