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A Lesson from Kids in Giving the Benefit of the Doubt

The other day, I was walking through my neighborhood with my two girls, who are three and four years old, when we passed an older, serious looking gentleman.

“Hello!” they both said, waving.

He looked over at them and kept walking.

I know it isn’t a big deal that he ignored them, but it bothered me. My girls just wanted to say hello to the man, and he couldn’t even take the time to acknowledge that they had spoken. I I figured I shouldn’t be surprised though – it’s not that unusual for my D.C. neighborhood.

“He didn’t say anything, Daddy,” said Daniela, my four-year-old.

“Yeah, I know.”

“He lost his voice,” said Daniela.

“He’s tired of his voice,” said Renee.

“He can’t talk,” Daniela added.

He’s a jerk, I thought.

A few blocks later, we passed a woman waiting at the bus stop, and my indefatigable girls said hello to her too.  The woman didn’t respond.  Again, I was annoyed at the unfriendly culture of people in my neighborhood.

“I think she’s quiet,” said Renee.

“I think she has a quiet voice,” said Daniela.

“Maybe God made her voice quiet,” said Renee.

These folks could hear; they could see my girls waving at them.  When my daughters gave these folks the benefit of the doubt, it didn’t change reality.  But here’s what it did do: it changed the way my girls saw them.  And there’s something special about being willing to assume goodness in other people – it somehow preserves that goodness in you.

Sure, my girls are eventually going to realize that some folks in the world can’t be trusted; some folks are dangerous; and some folks are cold, unfriendly people.  But my hope is that nonetheless, they will grow up and, rather than becoming jaded and cynical, become “shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).  Shrewd but innocent – only God can do that for those girls.

Quite frankly, my prayer is that God will do that for me too.

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