There was a conflict recently between my boys (M & S for the purpose of this article). S claimed that he had done an exercise to earn time on the XBox while no one was looking and M claimed that S couldn't possibly have done it and was lying. There was no way to independently verify which version of the story was true so all I had to go on was the word of each and they were in direct opposition to each other. I had to choose which version of events to accept and which to reject.
I ended up deciding to accept S's claim that he had done the exercise and had earned the video game time. Naturally, this upset M and I knew that he was partially upset because he felt that S was getting away with lying and partially because in ruling in S's favor, I appeared to be favoring S over him.
At the time, I didn't do a good job of explaining why I made the choice. Even if I had, I don't think that M was in a state that would have been receptive to hearing it. M went up to his room and S jumped on the XBox. I sat in the living room, playing the scenario over in my head, trying to think of a better way to explain my reasoning for deciding the way that I did.
After about 30 minutes, I was able to formulate an explanation in my head that I was happy with and that I thought M would be receptive to. I went up to his room where he was reading to share my reasoning and help him understand my decision.
Sitting on the edge of his bed, I explained to M that the reason that I chose to accept S's version of the story was because rejecting it would be calling his honesty in to question. I'd be telling S that I don't think he's an honest person. Without any reason or past experience to justify that accusation, it would be wrong of me to do that.
M shared that he thought that I was being distrustful of him by not choosing his side of the argument. I was able to explain to him that I wasn't questioning his integrity or honesty, just his judgement of the situation. He was basing his claim on what he thought had happened instead of what he knew for certain.
I explained that questioning a person's judgement is no trivial matter and I didn't do it lightly. Questioning a person's integrity, however, is much more serious and has significant implications. Misjudging a situation happens frequently and can happen innocently. Lying about a situation impunes a person's character.