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Marietta McCarty
Marietta McCarty
Empathy

Giving the Benefit of the Doubt

What if we gave everyone the benefit of the doubt?

In talking with child and adult philosophers about the importance of developing empathy, of maintaining a compassionate nature, we spend a considerable amount of time trying to uncover why empathetic identification with others doesn't come more easily. Gradually, what we realize is that without keen awareness of gratitude for one's own life, the door to the pure feeling of compassion will remain locked. This is a powerful revelation and a jolting reminder of the reasons we have to be full of thanks.

Adults and children thrive on writing about the things for which they are grateful, things that may have been heedlessly overlooked: health, opportunities, a library or park nearby, the chance to play and laugh, breaks that came their way through the generosity of others - people they may never know. As gratitude replaces whiffs of self-entitlement and self-importance, the path is paved to merge with the lives of others. Grateful for my life, very little separates mine from yours.

A group of philosophy club members considered this proposal from me: What if we re-oriented ourselves so that we gave everyone the benefit of the doubt - that this putting one's best self forward became our default mode in interacting with others? In fact, what if we learned to extend this beneift of the doubt to ourselves - a life of initial trust of oneself and others? Faces softened; hope suffused the room.

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About the Author
Marietta McCarty

Marietta McCarty is the author of Little Big Minds: Sharing Philosophy With Kids and How Philosophy Can Save Your Life: 10 Ideas That Matter Most.

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