Have you ever heard it said that you should “assume the best, and doubt the worst about others?” It’s a mantra I try to live by, yet one that I often find so difficult. A while back, I posted this on my blog:

I took Noah to the park today, and was able to snag this little beauty with my camera phone. What to even say about it? I guess sometimes nothing can be said because the picture says it all.

PS. Just FYI, this photo has been slightly edited for color and added effect.

As I explained later in the comments, I posted this image, as well as the editing confession as a catalyst for making people wonder how real it was, the things I might have done to make it worse than it was, etc. Basically, I wanted to paint a picture that at first glance would ruffle some feathers, but on further contemplation would allow for others to stop and assume the best and doubt the worst about the driver and his parking job.

After all, if I had edited something for added effect, shouldn’t it be important to know what that might be? I was sure it wouldn’t take long at all for people to really start questioning it and assuming the best while doubting the worst. I was shocked that it wasn’t until page four of the comments that somebody finally said something that wasn’t judgmental or negative, and it wasn’t until page five that somebody finally said something that was actually in this guy’s favor.

The unedited photo probably could have stood by itself, but I wanted a reason for people to question things in the driver’s favor. The driver really was parked that way. The only thing I changed in Photoshop was to make the bottom stall handicap too (originally, only one of the two stalls he was parked across was designated for handicap parking).

It was on page five that somebody finally gave me what I was looking for. They mentioned that it looked like he was parked next to a restroom. Perhaps he was facing a serious bathroom emergency, and it wasn’t too big a deal since there were several other handicap spots still open. Another reader finally made the same assumption, but even after and between those assumptions, a slew of negative continued to pour in.

Of course, it may seem that I am being judgmental right now, and that I am assuming the worst about all those who commented. I assure you that is not the case. I am merely discussing for discussion sake. When I saw the car parked that way, I myself thought the same negative thoughts. I cursed and mumbled at the nerve of this guy. I snapped the photograph and thought it would make for a great blog post about what schmucks some people were, and it was only when I got home and thought about my goal to always assume the best of others that I thought about how I might use it to strike up useful discussion.

So, why do we do that? Why do we so naturally assume the worst about others and doubt the best? Why are so many of us so eager to find fault in others? Why do we so often want to tell the grimmest story possible about what others do or have done in our lives?

Is it because it makes us feel better about ourselves? Is it because it somehow makes us better than others? Is it because it makes us feel justified in our own faults, weaknesses, and moments of stupidity? Could it even be that it’s fun or entertaining to do so?

All I know is that I enjoy life so much more when I assume the best and doubt the worst of others. My friendships grow stronger and my life is more fulfilling. I feel stronger as a person, and I feel less like I am in competition with others.

In truth, when I constantly doubt the best and assume the worst about others, I ultimately hurt myself more than anyone. I burden myself with a spirit of pessimism and negativity. I weigh myself down with pride and egotism. I also end up having to justify my harsh judgments of others by finding more of their faults anywhere I can. After all, one bad deed is never enough to enforce resentment or disdain for very long.

And so, I’ll continue trying to improve myself in this regard, even though it is one of my biggest weaknesses. I have faith that one day it will become a force of habit to look at every situation and always assume the best of others, no matter how tempting it is to do the opposite.

Dan Pearce, Single Dad Laughing

PS. The owner of the car was not in the bathroom. He was sitting over by the playground, talking to a younger woman while children played close-by. Knowing that, and seeing the picture above, how would you find a way to still assume the best and doubt the worst?

Also, I’d love your other comments today. Do you find it difficult to think this way about others, or is it natural for you? What were your first thoughts as you looked at the photograph above? Do you agree or disagree with the idea of assuming the best and doubting the worst?