Benefit of the doubt

From a very young age, my brothers and I enjoyed playing cricket on the front driveway. Ours was the biggest (and best) game in the street. Other kids regularly joined in, as it was impossible to ignore all the associated noise.

From a decibel perspective, I was the worst – very vocal and loud and intense. I played for keeps and would often get angry and upset. Not only did my brothers know how to push my buttons, all the kids in the street knew as well.

As avid suburban cricketers, we always thought it was very amusing that Mum’s initials were LBW. Early on, it was decided (by Dad) that no one could be given out, Leg Before Wicket.
Dad, who was the only dad in the street who joined in, said the benefit of the doubt should always apply.

This (nearly) always seemed fair to me and we didn’t abuse it – we didn’t wear pads on our legs, so we would be silly to deliberately put our legs in the way.
Nevertheless, it didn’t stop us from yelling (screaming) at the top of our voice ‘Howzat?’ We knew it wouldn’t be given out, but it put pressure on the batsman and had the added benefit of making the bowler feel good.

Recently, the profile of the phrase ‘the benefit of the doubt’ has been elevated by our Prime Minister. He has applied it beyond cricket to all sorts of things, including ‘national security’, borders, residency, citizenship, Centrelink, even bail from jail. Mr Abbott claims that we shouldn’t “let bad people play us for mugs”.

In a similar vein, a few days earlier I read of the Abbott government’s “furious” reaction to the Australian Human Rights Commission’s report about children in immigration detention.

The government labelled the report a “transparent stitch-up” and a “blatant partisan exercise”. I even read of personal attacks on the president of the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Not for the first time (or the last time), I realised I was entertaining a degree of anger. I know this because anger generally manifests itself in the form of impatience and shortness of breath. I know too that it is especially dangerous when held within, unexpressed.

Whilst I think I’ve improved in this regard since my cricketing days, such an emotion is as damaging as it ever was and I harked to the wisdom of the desert fathers. The saying I found myself focussing on was that of Abba Poemen, which could apply equally in different aspects to both the Prime Minister and me.

Poemen said: “There is no greater love to be found than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s neighbour. For if someone hears an evil word, that is, one which causes him grief, and is in the position to say the same in return, and struggles not to say it; or if he is taken advantage of, and bears it, and does not retaliate – such a person lays down his life for his neighbour”.

There are many who are criticising our politicians currently in power. But, in the same way that I am, to a degree, an image of my parents, politicians are an image of our society. Necessarily, I think we must begin with ourselves and not be tempted to try and change others.

The thing that used to get me maddest when playing cricket was injustice. I have often found that when I want to defend justice, I end up having injustice done to me.

The fact is I cannot prevent injustice by my words – no matter how many decibels I use.

With words, I am inevitably going to offend or irritate someone. Whilst I may think that I’m acting nobly, in fact I’m probably making matters worse.

The best I can do, particularly as a moderator, is turn to the One who alone gives justice. As the season of Lent begins, I believe that we can do no other but turn to God, through Jesus, who knows our minds and hearts, and says to us again and again, “… you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing …” [Luke 10:41]

Dan Wootton

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