The Benefit of the Doubt

Loosely defined as: assuming a neutral or positive opinion about a person or thing until more information becomes available.

Humans have evolved to make quick decisions. Sometimes our decisions are based on implicit bias and are flat out wrong. We hear about implicit bias errors frequently and some of us try to self-correct. Is there harm in that? There is no easy answer.

I am NOT advocating propagation of prejudice, but I’m also not telling people to ignore their gut reactions.

Harvard’s implicit association test has gotten a fair amount of attention, some criticism. Honestly, I don’t remember much from when I took it, except that it was annoying to have to make quick judgements. Is it a strong tool in observing snap judgement? Maybe. Ideally we would be using Daniel Kahneman’s System 2 thinking more often. But what about when the reptilian brain takes over?

Last year I had the opportunity to take Craig Douglas’s Extremely Close Quarters Concepts and I couldn’t not take it. After I completed one of the hardest challenges I have ever faced, I was hesitant to blog about it. I didn’t brag on social media and only a few of my friends got to see the marks which the simunitions left after breaking my skin. While I was immensely grateful for the skills I had learned, I was embarrassed by what the class had taught me about myself. It was my first ECQC and I did not do great. In one of our practical application tests (called evolutions) I had my firearm taken from me and got shot with it in the shoulder and butt. in another evolution I misjudged a situation and “shot” an innocent person. I can not describe the feeling of making a simulated mistake of that magnitude. I was not the only person who made snap judgements which came out tragically. All of a sudden I understood how some of the publicized errors in judgement happen.

Douglas started the training by talking about bias and how certain assumptions we make on a daily basis are false and after each evolution he broke down what happened and discussed what we should learn from it. In my evolution, two guys approached me at the same time, but from different angles. One tried to grab my arm and rob me, the other (it later turns out) was asking for my help. I thought they were working together and fired on them both. Douglas’s approach on Managing Unknown Contacts (MUC) was quite egalitarian, assume that everyone is dangerous, but be respectful. Don’t start a conflict just to start one.

Up until this moment I had prepared to yell in someone’s face if they invaded my space, but in this training I learned how to prepare “back pocket phrases” to establish my boundaries without treating someone like a dirt bag. The following are some of the things which I felt comfortable saying.

“Hey man, can you give me some space?”

“Whoa! That’s too close, can you please back up?”

“Stop! We can talk, but I don’t like people that close to me.”

Obviously, everyone should come up with their own, things they feel comfortable saying. If the unknown contact doesn’t respond appropriately, it may be time to consider other alternatives.

Everyone has to find something that works for them and then be consistent using it. Do you give old ladies or people who appear injured or differently-abled a pass?

Ted Bundy counted on that bias and would pretend to be injured. I will never forget the scene in Devil’s Rejects where Baby lies in the road .

Our instincts exist for a reason, don’t make a practice of ignoring them. Instead, give yourself the benefit of the doubt.

Leave a Reply