Today I read a post on social media that referenced a printed quote from a male physician that sounded misogynistic about the work ethic of female physicians. There were an avalanche of comments from readers who called for the physician’s ruin. I was reminded immediately of the Chicago Cubs’ fan who was captured apparently taking a foul ball from a child during a game, and the outcry that followed. We learned later that the fan was a great guy who had been doling out foul balls to children all day. Oops.

I know the physician who is quoted in the article. The quote sounds bad, and if it is true, I would not defend what he said. However, since I know him, there seems to me to be more to the story, and I’d like to hear his side. Wouldn’t it be nice if we all (including me) did that every time?

One of Dickens’ less well-known novels, Hard Times, has a carnival owner named Sleary, who tells Gradgrind, a stern schoolmaster and lover of facts, that he should “think the best of us, not the worst of us,” referring to the carnival workers.

It might be that simple. Social scientists have demonstrated that we act based on emotions, and that emotions are derived from the stories we tell ourselves to make sense of what we see and hear. The trick is to tell ourselves different stories, more generous stories, or at least less reactionary, hateful stories about what we see and hear. Take the time to learn more about what happened or was said. Let your emotions be more balanced before you react. That’s the discipline that journalism should strive to apply to published news, and what social media seems to rarely apply. TV is in the middle; entertainment and ratings seem to count for as much as objective reporting these days.

It’s hard to know what’s true and what’s not. A generous spirit might be a good tool for us all.

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