Benefit of doubt

One morning, my classmate Ram approached me as soon as I came out of a classroom and asked if I could spare a few minutes to discuss a very urgent personal matter on which he needed my advice. I had some work to attend to, but seeing the worried look on Ram’s face, I immediately took him to a quiet corner, where Ram started narrating his tale of woe.

That morning, during a discussion about his Final Year Project Report, Ram’s Advisor, Prof. Ravi suddenly flew into a rage without any provocation whatsoever, told Ram that he did not want to have anything to do with him henceforth, and ordered Ram out of his office.

I was baffled. Prof. Ravi was a soft-spoken gentleman in his fifties. In the 3 years that I had known him, I had never seen him lose his composure even during intense discussions. I told Ram that he must have inadvertently said something to provoke Prof. Ravi, and asked him what he had said just before Prof. Ravi’s sudden outburst. After a few seconds, he said, “Sir asked me if I had read the reference book that he had recommended. I replied that the library bugger had told me he would get it for me after a few days.”

“Did you say ‘library bugger’ or ‘librarian’ or ‘library man’? What were your exact words?” I asked.

“I said ‘library bugger’,” Ram replied.

The mystery had been solved! I told Ram that Prof. Ravi had almost definitely been upset by his using the word ‘bugger’. When I explained to him the possible meanings of the word, he understood, but became even more worried. I assured him that I would explain the matter to Prof. Ravi.

I went to Prof. Ravi’s office and explained to him that, since Ram had done his school education in vernacular medium, he was not well-versed in English. He had heard his college classmates use the word ‘bugger’ very freely and had assumed it was a fashionable synonym of ‘man’, completely unaware of the word’s meaning.

Prof. Ravi immediately called Ram, who had been waiting outside, assured him that all was well, and advised him not to use new words unless he was sure of their meaning.

Whenever anybody speaks or behaves in an uncharacteristically unpleasant manner, we must respond only after checking whether there is reason to give that person the benefit of doubt, maybe due to ignorance or because of circumstances that we may be unaware of.