I read Brene Brown’s Rising Strong at the end of last year. There’s one concept from the book I’ve been wrestling with ever since: “in general, people are doing in the best they can.” To which I immediately responded, “Are we? Are we really? If this is our best, isn’t that a pretty depressing view of the world?”
Brown’s husband tells her, “all I know is that my life is better when I assume that people are doing their best.” This part of the concept I came around to fairly easily. After all, I cannot know whether someone else is truly doing their best, and generally that’s really none of my business anyway. So I accept, at least in theory, that it’s better to assume other people are doing their best. In practice it’s still a work in progress. But what I’ve been mulling over ever since reading that chapter is the assumption that I am doing the best I can.
When Brown conducted interviews, she found that most people who answered “no” to “are people are doing the best they can?” used themselves as an example. “I know I’m not doing my best…” My initial reaction to this was “exactly!” I know what my absolute best is, and I’m definitely not doing that 100% of the time.
That was an easy exam problem – how could I miss that? This paper is mediocre; I know I can write better. That was a pretty mean thing you said to the customer service rep. It’s never ok to treat someone like that – how could you?
But wait. I’m a human, not a robot. I get tired, hungry, stressed, worried, distracted. I have unpleasant experiences that throw me off for the rest of the day. And no matter how many times pop self-development gurus say so, I’m not convinced it’s entirely true that we control our responses to circumstances. Instincts are powerful influences, and sometimes when I’m stretched to my limits it seems they’re running the show while my rational mind feebly protests in the background. So, if I’m not always at my absolute best, is it reasonable to expect myself to do my absolute best? Or is my best at this moment good enough?
I easily recognize the concept of “doing the best I can at this moment” when it comes to running. If it’s hot, I know that I will run slower than I do in the cold. If it’s allergy season, I know that I will run slower than I do sans histamine reaction. If I twist an ankle, I know my run is over for the day. In short, I expect outside factors to affect how well I can run; I don’t expect them to affect how well I can human.
But if I accept physical limitations to my absolute best, why not mental and emotional limitations? Should I expect my drained, exhausted self to be as mentally sharp as my fresh, energetic self? Should I expect my sad, stressed self to be as patient and kind as my happy, calm self? Phrased that way, the answer looks like an obvious no. I wouldn’t expect that of other people. And yet.
I still know what my absolute best is. And I still expect myself to live up to it. It’s easier to assume others are doing the best they can than to assume the same for myself, because I know what my best is. I can’t not know. And so I’m still not sure how to answer that question in the affirmative if it’s about myself.
What do you think…are we doing the best that we can?
Linking up with Thinking Out Loud