Benefit of the doubt

Photo by Charity Banks.

By Kristen Banks

What have I been doing this week you might ask? I’ve been dealing with the aftermath of a poor decision I made last weekend. What was that decision, you might be wondering? I decided to walk around my own front yard in flip flops instead of tennis shoes. You might think that sounds pretty harmless, right? But it was apparently very offensive and confrontational to a family of fire ants who apparently also reside there.

If you’ve never dealt with fire ants before, consider yourself very lucky. Fire ants, as anyone from southern Oklahoma will tell you, are a particularly vicious little varmint. They travel in droves, and can and will reside anywhere you least expect them to. They especially like to make a home in any place that you might find appealing to park yourself. I’m pretty sure the old expression “ants in your pants” was coined in reference to them specifically. Because you can be standing one second on a seemingly vacant two foot square of average lawn real estate, and then from out of nowhere, you are being overrun by an angry ant mob. You can be laughing and visiting with your friends one moment, and the very next you are running for the hills crying. Yelping, dancing, and flip flop throwing will ensue, as you dash for the water hose or whatever bucket is closest to quench the fiery bites burning away now on your feet for which the barbarous little critters are named for.

It’s kind of ironic that something so small and seemingly insignificant can wreak such havoc and cause so much pain. The worst part is the pain does not immediately go away. Oh no siree! If you’re like me you’ll get a little blister for every bite you receive that aches and itches for about a week. Your toes will swell up, and you’ll feel pretty miserable. You’ll also get funny looks as you get caught running a pencil down the inside of your sock or trying to inconspicuously rub your foot up against random things to try and get some relief. The funny thing is whether you’ve gotten one bite or a dozen, the experience is pretty much the same. It’s miserable, and the pain tends to stick with you for a while afterwards.

This whole messy unfortunate business made me think about how words are kind of like fire ants sometimes. One moment you can be visiting and laughing with a group of friends when out of the blue someone says something to you that feels a whole lot like a fiery bite to your emotions. It might only be a small sting, but the pain and misery can welt up and grow and last a long time after the initial encounter.

Sometimes the comment was callous and meant to hurt your feelings, but oftentimes it was completely innocent and didn’t mean what you thought it did, or wasn’t really directed at you at all, you just happened to be standing in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I remember one time, many years ago and before I was a quilter, I got my feelings hurt by something someone casually said to me in a conversation. I remember feeling shocked, like they had just slapped me across the face with their words. I didn’t tell the person that they had hurt my feelings at the time, but I remember being upset for several days afterwards. I remember being angry every time I heard their name and I really had a hard time getting past it.

I was praying about the whole thing, and I remember thinking “the thing is, I would never say something like that to someone.” And then a distant memory surfaced in my mind of a time when I said something rather careless and potentially hurtful to someone. I immediately thought, “Yeah! But I didn’t MEAN it that way!” And then it hit me, how did I know that the person that offended me MEANT to offend me? What they said might have been completely innocent, and meant to be taken in a different way than how I took it.

I’ve always heard that “we judge ourselves by our intentions, and we judge others by their actions,” and I guess that’s true. I started thinking about how bad I would feel if someone was still stewing and hurting over something that I had said years ago that I didn’t even mean to say. I really hoped that there wasn’t someone out there gritting their teeth every time they heard MY name. I hoped and prayed that others had given me the benefit of the doubt, and had forgiven my poor choice of words at times.

Quilters are a social group of people with big personalities. And occasionally misunderstandings can arise even between the best of people and the best of friends. Words said carelessly or in anger can sting and burn long past the day they were spoken. And while it’s important for us to mind our tongue and be sensitive to others, it’s equally important for us to forgive and give people the benefit of the doubt, because people aren’t perfect, and we are all human. We don’t always get it right, or even portray what we mean well at times.

I hope that I can be the type of person that learns from my mistakes. I want to be the kind of person that extends grace and mercy to someone even when they don’t deserve it, because I know we all have bad days now and then. And I’d hate for someone’s impression of me to be based on mine. But more than anything I want to be the person putting out the fire instead of leaving the sting. I hope that if we can all become more conscious of our own humanity, that we just might be more tolerant when we encounter it in others.

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