Giving the benefit of the doubt

By Don Aslett

Perhaps we have heard the counsel given with good intent to “avoid the very appearance of evil.” Could there be some confusion as to who might own the appearance of evil? Is it the doer of the suspected evil or the viewer of the appearance of evil? Might the onlooker/accuser create the appearance and not the accused? Is there something to the old adage “they that know no evil suspect none?” Let us present a few scenarios for enlightenment.

Scene: It is 1:30 am. We pass by the local bar and see our minister dragging out of the door.

Backstory: Nope, he’s not a customer, as it would appear. He does cleaning part-time to support his parish and family. This happens to be his last job of the night, ending his 16-hour day.

Scene: At the airport, you spot a couple where a petite wife is laboring to carry two large bags. Her big, worthless, husky husband is carrying only his boarding pass. You point out the couple to your own traveling partner.

Backstory: The husband just had serious back surgery and was told not to carry anything heavier than 2 pounds. He’s treating his wife to a week in Hawaii for seeing him through the surgery.

Scene: Three of us saw the mayor and a stunning young woman arrive at a hotel mid-day. They parked their cars and walked into the hotel, happily talking along the way. Four hours later, the two returned to their cars. Hmmm.

Backstory: The next day we read in the paper that a conference was being hosted at this upscale hotel where committees from various areas met to decide details of the new special needs youth center being built. The attractive woman was actually an anchor for the CNN news staff.

Scene: There is that juvenile gang of kids again. Ripping off posters from the City Park Building. We could easily tell that one kid was in charge and the other 10 followed along in the rampage.

Backstory: After we called the police, we learned that it was a Boy Scout Eagle project to clean up the entire city of out-of-date signage and other garbage.

Scene: An animal lover, or so you thought, is holding down his screaming little dog, who is yelping something terrible. You run over and start yelling at him to let the dog go.

Backstory: The owner is pulling out the last few painful porcupine quills from the dog’s poor little nose.

Sure, some behavior might be remiss, but consequences usually belong to the perpetrator not to us. Volumes can be recorded about gossip mongering and the judgment of onlookers. It is not our place to pass judgment.

When we proceed to interpret another’s actions from unproven appearances, we are clearly the accuser and also the owner of the appearance of evil. This violation puts us, not the suspect, right up there in the Big Ten — bearing false witness.

The media does enough seizing and exploiting of the appearance of evil without our individual help. I like the other old adage: “Never explain because your true friends don’t need it, and your enemies won’t believe you anyway.”

Give innocence the benefit of the doubt. Just like the little boy who was in the kitchen with his mother. She was desperately beating on a bottle of catsup when the doorbell rang and she asked her son to answer the door.

“Where is your mother?” the person asked. The boy’s truthful answer was, “Oh, she is in the kitchen hitting the bottle.” Remember, appearance may be an illusion.

Don Aslett of McCammon is the founder of The Museum of Clean, 711 S. 2nd Ave. in Pocatello, and still enjoys giving tours to all visitors. Check out the museum’s website at