Friday, December 10, 2010

The Benefit of the Doubt

The principle we read about in Matthew 7, the 'Golden Rule' so to speak, is that if you expect people to have grace for you - to give you the benefit of the doubt - then you must do the same for others. This is a virtue that is rare in our culture. The way I see it, we are pretty quick to judge, convict and even demonize people who don't line up exactly to our expectations, and we do it with such a subjective perception of their behavior or performance. From the far left everyone looks like Wesboro Baptists, and from the far right everyone looks like Hitler. We try so hard to paint a grey world black and white, or blue and red, and we rarely try to understand people or find the good in them. We rarely attempt to give people the benefit of the doubt.

We pass a homeless man on the street and we justify NOT giving him something. We say, "Well, he'll just spend this on drugs or booze, so I'm doing him a favor." We keep for ourselves the benefit of the doubt. It makes us feel better, it gives us a smug reason to remain indifferent. There's ways around that doubt, like offering food, but we're satisfied with our own judgement. We quickly "judge-jury-executioner" the poor guy and go on our merry way. 

I've always tried to be incredibly nice to fans of our band because I know this to be true: If you're nice to someone they'll tell one person about you, but if you're rude, mean or even withdrawn, they'll tell a hundred. They'll tell a hundred people about what a jerk you are. I've heard numerous stories from people saying "I heard so-and-so is a major asshole," and then I meet that person and they turn out to be one of the sweetest, kindest people I've ever met. Maybe on the day they walked passed the alleged "victim" they were in a funk, maybe sick, maybe sad. Whatever it is, it's always inescapably perceived as "Jerk." We rarely give them the benefit of the doubt.

Have you ever met a celebrity? Has he/she walked passed you, eyes to the ground, perhaps trying to avoid you? Or maybe they've even been short with you? What is your natural response to this? What's the first thing someone asks you when you say you've met someone "important"? It's always either "Was he cool?" or "Was he a jerk?" The Jerk stories spread like wildfire. We love to spread negativity and we rarely give people, especially those "important" types of people, the benefit of the doubt.

I've encountered this with live music A LOT. People go to see a band and snap judge whether or not the band is "good live" off of one show. They don't take into account the venue's sound equipment and lights, the sound engineer, or the fact that the band hasn't had a day off in two weeks, or the fact that they drove over night 12 hours to be there and didn't sleep, or the fact that the singer lost his voice singing for people like you because he didn't want to cancel the show and upset everyone (COUGH COUGH). People withhold the benefit of the doubt. They reserve it for themselves without ever giving it out. What's even worse is that they make these judgement calls about live performances by watching cell-phone recorded YouTube videos! It baffles me. I can truthfully say that as a band we've had a lot of great performances and a handful of bad ones, but because negativity spreads faster, the bad ones always tend to make their way in some video form to YouTube, where of course they get more plays, and somehow happen to be better quality than the good ones. The critics always tend to lack any unbiased sympathy. They make their mind up quickly, withholding any benefit of the doubt.

People have told me certain bands I've toured with are "terrible live" when I know for a fact that they aren't, because I've personally watched 30 of their shows and 29 of them were incredible. Musicians aren't invincible, they're human, and bands on our level don't have the big money production to fall back on. We're exposed, which it's awesome when we're great, and terrible when we're not. The benefit of the doubt is something I've rarely experienced in this area. Everyone is a music critic with a strong opinion even if it's the most uninformed, ignorant and subjective opinion one could hold. Sweeping statements are never true (I realize that in itself is a sweeping statement), not just about music but about anything. Nothing human is all good or all bad, and there are redeeming qualities in every human experience. The world isn't black and white. People are flawed and ugly and beautiful and good. The world is grey, and we must give the "white" in everyone a chance. We must attempt to give people the benefit of the doubt.

Mother Teresa was a person who truly gave people the benefit of the doubt. She understood what Jesus was saying in Matthew 7. She understood that regardless of the possibility of a negative outcome one must still choose to do the right thing. She puts it beautifully in this commission she wrote entitled "Love Them Anyway":

People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Be good anyway.

Honesty and frankness will make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People need help, but may attack you if you try to help them.
Help them anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them anyway.

-Mother Teresa


  1. You are exactly right. God help us all.

  2. It doesn't matter who we are, what stage of life we are in, we're all guilty of this in varying degrees. I believe when we strive to be better, pray for help, it becomes easier and more natural for us to be Christlike. A smile, kind word or small act of service goes a long way- It just takes me to start it. One of my favorite quotes is by Horace Mann- “To pity distress is but human; to relieve it is Godlike.”
    Thank you for your insight.
    On a side note (I'm full of those), I've been to 3 of your shows this year, one where the sound/equipment gave you some grief, one where your voice was hurting you and one that was seemingly perfect. I loved them all and was just happy to be there. I think you guys are phenomenal live- hiccups or not

  3. your insight again blows me away - the way your mind works, the way you reason things out, is absolutely brilliant.

  4. Amen! I've only see you guys once and it was great but I'll wait until 3-4 more times before I can pass judgment. Also thank you guys for always being nice to your fans. I will do my job and tell more people about The Classic Crime

  5. Westboro Baptists, Hitler AND Mother Teresa in the one post. Yet it works a treat. Thanks Matt.

  6. Yeah. I've heard from a lot of people that Matt Theisen and Aaron Gillespie as both huge d-bags, but I really don't see how they could've made it so far in the music industry if they were as bad as people say.

    People just need discernment.

    And TCC needs to come to Canada to be discerned.

  7. Just to pass along some positive info, I've spent a lot of time with Theissen and a few moments with Gillespie. Both are pretty popular so it makes sense that the negative stuff would travel so far. Truth is they are both misunderstood eccentrics, but both couldn't have been more kind. They're both really, really nice people, who laugh and joke and act just like everyone else.

  8. Great post Matt! I agree with your comment on Matt and Aaron. When you have several thousand fans at your show and each fan has their own expiations as to what each person in the band should be like and how they should respond to the fans, it is hard! You are never going to live up to it all and you have bad days like everyone else. Keep writing Matt!

  9. Your assessment is so true, "celebs" or "famous" people are just humans like the rest of us and we could all use a little more grace! I'm glad you pointed out all those things that can make a show go bad, cause I've been to some recently that made me wonder if the sound crew had any knowledge of acoustics at all!

    But I will say, that you were very sweet to that little middle aged lady who asked you to sign a copy of one of your blogs, it wasn't near as exciting as the lady before her who had you sign her guitar!

  10. THEISSEN IS MY HERO!! but yeah, I've seen him get kind of a pissed off vibe during a show before. I could see how people might think he's a jerk, but I think it's just cause he lets his emotions out there.. even when he is pissed. And that whole "feeling" thing that some musicians have seems to correlate with how awesome they are at song writing. Thanks for letting me know that he is cool and it's not just my wishful thinking, haha..
    and matt, thanks for being vulnerable

  11. Just wrote a short story called "The Art of Judging and Breaking" based on my college expiriences. It about how in judging people at first glance, you are breaking your own heart.

    Me and my friend went to one of your shows in May of this year (got to stop you befor the show and shake your hand). He is a huge music critic, both subjectively and objectively. You had been touring for a while with a show most every night and your voice was shot. After the show he not only said that (regardless of your pain) your voice is so good regardless and the band is really good live, but also, objectively speaking, you guys produce some of the greatest music in this day and age. Just thought I'd share that...

    (love how your into Mother T.) she's amazing