The Ignatian Year XX: Giving Others the Benefit of the Doubt

In one of the Annotations (or Preliminary Observations) that open the Spiritual Exercises, in talking about the mutual respect that must exist between the person giving the Exercises and the retreatant, Ignatius makes an observation about what he suggests must be true of “every good Christian” – and that is that we always give others the benefit of the doubt.  In Ignatius’ words, one must “be more ready to save his neighbor’s proposition than to condemn it.”  That if there is a way to do so, to adopt a positive way of reading what another says.

Ignatius is calling us to a generosity of spirit in how we deal with each other.  A willingness to try hard to see another’s giftedness at moments when these gifts seem hidden.  An effort to give another the benefit of the doubt, to try to see something someone has said in the best possible light rather than the worst.

If we are honest, we will admit we don’t always do that.  You see it in the news and on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter – people always ascribing the worst motive to those they disagree with.  People giving the worst possible reading to a comment made by someone whose views they disagree with.

Ignatius’ advice seems especially important in these days of fractiousness. Think of how different our dialogue and our world could be if we adopted his approach as a normal way of behaving.

Note that this is a the twentieth in a series of posts in celebration of the Ignatian Year, which began on May 20 of this year.