Yesterday, I met up with a group of friends, and at some point one of them mentioned an incident where he was treated less than fairly by an acquaintance, and began to speculate why this person chose to treat him so.

There is always a host of reasons why people treat other people in ways they shouldn’t. But why does malice tend to top the list in our minds? Why do we tend to suspect malice immediately, without entertaining other possibilities first? What is the evidence to support malice or ill-will as the primary, or most common cause of unsatisfactory behaviour to one’s neighbour? In medicine, we would subject a hypothesis to rigorous scrutiny (trials, studies) before arriving at an unequivocal conclusion.

I’ll grant you, it would be difficult to construct such a trial or study for human behaviour. Who would be the “cases” and who the “controls”? If it were a retrospective study, there would be a huge element of recall bias, observer bias. Or the numbers might well be too few to achieve statistical significance. In other words, it would be hard to subject human behaviour to the rigour of a quantitative study. How does one quantify a human emotion? A qualitative study can address emotions better in one respect, but it is more difficult to come to an unambiguous conclusion.

I can cite personal examples where I was convinced that an act was committed out of malice, and could easily find all the evidence to support it, but conveniently chose to ignore evidence to the contrary.

And I can equally cite examples where other persons put me on trial, and became judge, jury, and executioner all rolled into one, when I know from the depth of my own conscience that I meant no ill-will, and events just took such a turn that I ended up looking as if I might have meant it.

As another friend yesterday also put it, a lot of the time people are just being people. They could be tired, overworked, could just be having a bad day, they could have a stone lodged in their shoe, it could be something that someone said earlier to them that really rattled their cage, and you/I just happened to be the next person that came along and got the brunt of it.

Malice is not always the agenda. Sometimes it is. But even if it is, does it really matter? Wouldn’t we forgive someone if they meant no malice? Should our behaviour be drastically different if they did? Who would we really be punishing if we hit back? Or if we sulked and let the wound fester?

The solution? Not an easy one. In the first place, one would have to try to forgive, forget, let it go.

But what if the thoughtless/inconsiderate act was depriving you of something? Something you wanted? Badly?

The answer is: becoming more assertive. Not easy to do in practice. But it is a lesson in personal growth that we all have to take.

The overall lesson I took home with me after yesterday’s discussion, was to give people the benefit of the doubt. In other words, to try and be more forgiving, more understanding. That is what this Christmas message, this season is all about.

I aim to try this, starting today. I hope I can make the resolution last the whole year.

Happy New Year, everyone!