Are you really doing your best?
Today I was out for my routine early morning walk. I’ve been going much earlier than usual thanks to my cat waking me up at 5 am every day. Once she hears the birds chirping she just won’t shut up. (Feel free to email me your cat rehabilitation advice.) I was listening to a great interview with Brené Brown by Russell Brand (I am having a bit of a Russell Brand moment right now.) As I listened I was laughing out loud at parts of the interview. There is a video at the bottom if you are interested. Brené was talking about her research and one of the questions she asked participants was, “Do you believe people are doing their best?” I started thinking about how I would respond. I would like to think of myself as a person who believes others are doing their best. But then I look at some of the choices people make and I wonder…really? Are they? Couldn’t they do a little better? And maybe, more specifically, am I? Couldn’t I do better? The always-striving-for-self-improvement side of me kicked in and I thought of all areas of my life where I could be doing better. Couldn’t I be eating better? Couldn’t I be making better choices in so many areas of my life? Couldn't I be handling my cat more effectively? Just as I was thinking it all through, I heard someone yelling up ahead. Part of my walk is through a large urban park and the warm weather tends to bring an increase in homeless people sleeping in the park. It is well patrolled and I generally feel safe. The yelling came from someone who appeared to be having a psychotic break. He was barefoot and shirtless. He had made his way across a large rocky drainage ditch where he was on his knees rocking and yelling. It was about 6:30 a.m. My first instinct was self-protection so I mapped out where I would head if he came towards me. I decided I was close enough to bolt to the garden centre where some of the early workers were arriving. So, I stopped and called 911. I explained the situation to the dispatcher, warned a few walkers approaching of what they would encounter ahead and let the park staff know that I had already notified the police and headed home. I hit play on the podcast and went back to thinking about the question, “Are people doing their best?” I paused and thought of this guy in the park. Was he doing his best? It is so easy to write him off as another addict - just another crazy Hamiltonian. Then I remembered the summer my son had been at a sleepover followed by several hours outside on a hot summer day biking with friends. He was about 15 and came home and took a nap. When he woke up he had no idea where he was. He didn’t know who we were. We couldn't snap him out of it. He was frightened and unable to connect with reality. After consuming a lot of fluids and getting a long sleep he was fine. But it was a very scary evening for us. Maybe this guy was also severely dehydrated? Maybe he had gone off the medication he needed? Maybe he couldn’t afford the medication? Maybe he was on a bad trip? There were so many explanations and I will never know what was going on with him. But was he doing his best? Do I really believe he is doing his best? I want to believe he was doing his best. It feels far more loving and kind to see others as doing their best. I have no idea what pain is in his life and what path led him to the park today. I hope and pray he gets the help he needs. And what about me? Am I doing my best? There is always more I could be doing. Does that mean I am not doing my best? Can you be doing your best AND still want to do better at the same time? I think so. And being compassionate towards someone else or myself doesn’t mean we are off the hook. It doesn’t mean I don’t call the police and report someone who is clearly distressed. It does’t mean I don’t try and do better next time. Recognizing someone is doing their best may actually result in walking away from a toxic relationship. You may decide based on that realization that if they are doing the best they can you can't be around them. It can lead to some difficult conversations. It can lead to hard choices. It can lead to forgiveness. It can lead to compassionate response. Think about someone who has hurt or disappointed you recently. What would it mean if you believed that they were doing their best? Think about those areas in your life where you seem to be stuck in patterns. What would it mean to believe you are doing the best you can? I think once you realize you are doing your best - the next question, if you aren't happy, is, "What can I do to create an environment where I can do better?" Doing your best doesn't mean you are living perfectly. It doesn't mean you don't have limitations. Doing your best doesn't mean you have it all together. Doing your best doesn't mean you couldn't have made a different choice. It does’t mean we don’t try to do better. It means we have some compassion for ourselves and the people around us. We realize that there are alternatives to our current behaviour but today, we did our best. Tomorrow we can try and do a little better.
If you want to watch or listen to the podcast episode with Brené Brown, here it is! Warning: Not for the faint of heart.