The Six Questions
A Guide to Judging Favorably
The Torah teaches that, whenever we experience or hear about the negative behavior of another person, we must “judge favorably.” In simple terms, that means giving the benefit of the doubt. But how can one follow that advice when it seems that the facts clearly point to someone’s guilt?
Sometimes we jump to the wrong conclusion because the facts are different from what we perceive them to be. Even if our facts are accurate, we often misinterpret the intent behind them . When we drop the assumption that there was a negative intention behind someone’s actions towards us, we automatically deflate much of the anger and hurt we feel.
Here are six possible ways to analyze a situation and jump to a good conclusion.
- Are you sure it happened at all?
Sometimes our perceptions of what we see and hear are mistaken.
- Are you sure the details are correct?
One small detail can completely alter the scenario. Something may have been exaggerated or omitted that would make a big difference.
- Do you know if the other person intended harm?
Often the consequences are unforeseen.
- Do you know the assumptions the other person was operating under?
Maybe the other person was operating under a misconception that would explain their behavior.
- Could the other person’s act been the result of an innocent, human error?
Everyone has limitations. Perhaps this person lacked experience, was forgetful, distracted or simply didn’t think carefully enough before acting.
- Do you know what events preceded the negative action?
The other person may be enduring a great deal of pain, frustration or stress. This might be a response to a specific situation, like an illness or financial loss. Or it could be a deeper, more pervasive problem that effects the person’s entire life.*
*Although the Torah requires us to judge others with favor and compassion, we are not required to accept abusive behavior from others. Physical, verbal or emotional abuse must be addressed and corrected.