What now feels like a lifetime ago, I went to university to study law. After receiving the usual generalised education one gets at high school, I was suddenly thrust into a world that revolved around this one (admittedly complex) subject. Life became all about facts, suppositions, judicial findings and the minutiae of legislation.
Back where I started
While law school wasn’t the thrilling ride that TV sometimes makes it out to be, it was interesting and I assumed that my life would take the usual career path after graduation. However, after five and a half years of immersion in this new world, I found myself somewhat disillusioned with the inner workings of our legal system and unenthused about the idea of a corporate career. Skipping out on trying to find clerkships and graduate positions, I decided to have a ‘gap year’ and took myself off to South East Asia to work in the not-for-profit world.
Fast forward seven years, one worldwide pandemic and an incredibly quick international move later and I’ve found myself back in Australia, in the legal world where I started.
It’s a strange place to be.
While the general principles of law remain the same in the classroom and in the real world, practically, it’s an entirely different matter. ‘The facts’ are no longer fictitious stories, but real people and situations. Outcomes aren’t just findings from my (sometimes dubious) application of the law to fabricated circumstances, but events that could change the course of someone’s life.
Innocent until proven guilty?
Seeing this play out in real life has got me thinking over the last few weeks about one of the key principles of our legal system – that everyone is innocent until proven guilty.
In an age of cameras and film, instant uploading, real time commentary and constant media consumption, it’s easy to see how this concept can go by the wayside. We draw conclusions based on the information available to us, even if we don’t have access to both sides of the story. The media draws conclusions based off what headline or spin will sell.
It’s made me incredibly conscious of the thousands of snap judgements I make every day. Rude, competent, guilty, kind, slow, professional, annoying. The list could go on and on. Whether it’s a news story I hear on the radio or the attitude of someone serving me at a coffee shop, it’s hard not to assign labels to people and situations, particularly in the face of seeming injustice.
Losing the truth
It might not seem like a big problem. After all, our judgements and gut feelings often act as a guide to help us in the hundreds of daily decisions we have to make.
However, the problem is, that when I assign motivations to others I lose the truth. Instead of seeing the thousands of reasons that could be behind a certain behaviour I simply pick the one that is most satisfying to me.
Many years ago someone told me that the easiest way to live is to assume that everyone is doing the best they can in that moment. While I still struggle with how to process and judge or not judge those involved in situations where great pain has been caused, the assumption above is incredibly helpful in everyday life. It makes you kinder and more generous. It also gives you permission to move on, instead of wallowing in the feelings left behind by someone’s unkindness or inefficiency.
Most of the time life isn’t black and white. Let’s be mindful to give each other the benefit of the doubt and believe that everyone is doing the best they can.
Anna Waite hails from Brisbane, Australia. She enjoys travel, good coffee and getting to hang out with awesome people from around the world!