Maybe, just maybe we’re all doing the best we can with what we’ve got.
In her book Rising Strong, Brene Brown shares a story about a speaking engagement she does rather begrudgingly and she gets a roommate who seems to be a messy person (it’s Ch 6 if you’re curious). When Brown returns from her speaking engagement she goes to see her therapist and brings up this situation with the roommate and speaking engagement. After Brown finishes her therapist asks her “do you think that woman was doing the best she could?” And Brown responds rather angry. But the question stays with her – she ends up having a conversation with a complete stranger about it. She asks her husband about it. She digs deeper into the question: Do you believe that people are doing the best they can with the tools they have?
As I read this chapter and the days following I found myself wrestling with this question… a lot… a lot more than I expected. But I think I settled on the answer that people are doing the best with what they have.
I was talking with one of my coworkers the other day, the root of our conversation being the challenge of taking care of our patients in the ER. The ER this week saw some of it’s busiest days. And as nurses we felt it. We felt it because we’re human. We felt it because our jobs are hard and sometimes we are the receivers of people’s anger and frustration for their long waits. As we were discussing this challenge I started telling her about this concept – these people are doing the best they can with the tools they have.
It’s kinda funny actually – as a nurse, I feel comfortable walking into a hospital, at least to a certain extent. I show up there for every shift for work. Being in a hospital, for me, feels like home in a way. It’s what I worked for. It’s where I’m doing what I know best. But when people come to us it’s their crisis. Something happened that made this patient come to see us in the hospital. They are scared. They are anxious. They are stressed. They may be on their last wits. They may be confused and overwhelmed. This is their crisis. We don’t know all of what’s going on for them. We simply need to remember to not take things personally, treat them in a way that upholds their dignity and remember they are doing the best they can with what life has handed them.
Taking this concept in a different direction, a good friend of mine texted me the other day asking for some advice because she’s concerned about her friend who is going through RCIA this year to enter the Catholic church. My friend thought I might have wisdom to offer having gone through the process myself. What I found myself telling her was to remember that there is so much of this woman’s heart that you may not know. Again, going back to that concept of we’re doing the best we can with what we’ve got.
The last year-ish has been the first time that choosing to live out my Catholic faith has been an active choice. For the majority of the last 7 1/2 years going to mass, praying each day, and investing in the community around has been fairly easy. The hard/dry spells last no more than 3 mos. But this one has been going on much longer. It’s hard to pray most days. It’s an active choice to carve out time for God each day. It’s an active choice to go to mass on Sundays, and there were weeks I didn’t go for the sheer that I didn’t feel like it. But looking back I would still say I was doing the best I could with the spot I was in.
What I’m realizing most with all of this is how easy it is to jump to judgment about people. But the reality is – there is so much we don’t know about people. We only know as much as we can see, or as much as they will tell us. There is so much we don’t about people – their wounds, their trials, their struggles, their joys, the things that bring them life.
Next time you’re inclined to jump to conclusions about someone I encourage you to consider the fact that this person might be doing the best they can with the tools they have. Life is hard, messy, beautiful and confusing as hell. Somedays are a lot harder than others and we’re all imperfect, bound to fail. But if you’re doing the best you can with the cards you’ve been dealt, then you’re doing it. And that’s all the more we can ask.
I’ll close with a story from yoga last week – as our instructor was leading us through the class at one point she said we were all perfect. Knowing the look on my face at that comment I can imagine what other people’s faces said. The instructor followed up with saying that we were all perfect because we were trying. What I’m learning is that it’s not so much the end goal that matters but the journey we take and the person we become along the way.