Benefit of the Doubt: friendships’ stitch in time.
I recently read a piece called The Straight Girl’s Secret (https://thenib.com/i-was-the-straight-girls-secret/), in which an affair of the heart comes to an end, and with it the friendship from which it originally grew, because one of the girls boasted, to admiring gossips, she had only been toying with the affections of the other. The other, by her own account, took this to heart and regretted the whole story for years thereafter.
Had I the power to speak to either of these girls at the time of the story, I would tell them what Aslan says to Lucy in Lewis’ Voyage of the ‘Dawn Treader’, in virtually the same context:
“You have misjudged your friend. She is weak, but she loves you. She was afraid of the older girl and said what she did not mean”.
A misjudgement, I believe, based in a mistaken belief that what is said in anger, in sorrow, in apparent malice, or otherwise in moments of emotion, is somehow ‘truer’, ‘more sincere’, than things said in moments of calm. And yet, why should this be so? Are we not, when calm, better able to weigh and consider what we say, and to say (and do) what brings the best accord, the most peace and harmony, and best cheers those around us? Are we not, when calm, most possessed of both reason (which is thought, in harmony with reality) and intuition (which is subconscious reason), and so, best able to say what is both true, and (wherever possible) conducive to happiness?
The emotional speech is celebrated because it ‘comes from the heart’; because it is ‘raw’, virgin, dredged from the bottommost of the imagination. Yet we human beings have no use for raw things. The best food and drink is the finest: that is, the food and drink with all inedible, poisonous, unpalatable, or even polluting stuffs taken out, and its own good qualities left in, or improved. The best clothes, again, are the finest, made of material from which, again, everything abrasive is taken out, and everything soft left in; and this without losing its protective power, which is awe-inspiring in its own right. All things, animal, vegetable, and mineral, must be refined, to be of use. All tool-using organisms acknowledge this: a chimpanzee trims a twig to catch insects, a crow bends a wire to reach into narrow gaps, a hermit-crab arranges anemones on its shell. Among humans, metal is no use unless dug, smelted, forged, molded, etc.; likewise, stone, unless carved. Refinement of manner is the mark of the ‘civilized’ human being, in any and every society; refinement of sense makes the best cooks and diners alike; refinement of art makes the grand masters; refinement of clocks makes the most accurate time-keeping. Refined thoughts, in the simplest sense of the word, make the best speech.
It may be objected that refinement makes deceit easier. Yet the case with which the present essay began, and its countless parallels and likenesses over time, is one in which the raw speech deceives, instead. Crudeness is no obstacle to deceit.
It may be objected that refinement is difficult to learn. So it is, but cases like this prove it is worth learning.
It may be objected that refinement makes us snobs. So it does, but crudeness, as already seen, is no obstacle to that either.
Having thus thrown down these three straw men, we may conclude one simple thing: that to give the benefit of the doubt, and believe the best over the worst until the last possible moment, can save many a friendship; and that, all agree, is a good thing.