Do you believe that people are doing the best they can?
This question was posed to me by Dr. Brené Brown, vulnerability, shame, and worthiness researcher, in her latest book Rising Strong. The question was originally asked of Brown herself by her counsellor, and Brown went on to ask friends, family, strangers, and research participants. At first Brown answered with a resounding “No,” as I did myself. But as she unpacks the story and her research her mind was changed, and I found myself softening as well. Here is how you can improve your life by assuming the best.
Those Who Answer “No”
Brown noticed in her conversations with people in her life as well as in her research there were commonalities between the groups of those who answered the question with a no and those who answered yes. The people who responded that people are not doing their best often used themselves as an example of not doing ones best. These people struggled with perfectionism and were as hard on others as they were on themselves.
Those Who Answer “Yes”
On the other side, the people who believed that people are doing their best were often more compassionate. They acknowledged their own mistakes, but also noted that their intentions had been good and that they had tried. This showed how they believed in their own self-worth. These people extended that compassion to others by choosing to believe that other people had good intentions and were trying also.
I related to the I’m-not-doing-my-best-so-neither-are-they feelings. My first reaction had been, “I can think of a million times I’ve not done my best, so obviously other people aren’t either.” However, after I read about those who had answered yes, I went back and reflected on the “million times” I could think of not having done my best. I noticed there were so many other factors involved in the situation as a whole, not just my perceived shortcomings.
The One Assumption It’s Okay to Make
Life is complicated. When we interact with another person, there is an entire other world going on for that person that we know little about. All those unknown factors contribute to their behaviour. Maybe they’ve just lost their job, have to care for a dependent family member, are dealing with a health scare, and so on. People do not behave like themselves when they’re under stress. Additionally, we all have different skill levels. Some people simply do not posses the skills, tools, or support system to meet the expectations of their circumstance.
By assuming others are doing their best, it keeps you out of judgement. You focus on what is – presently – instead of what you think could or should be. You will be able to appreciate others for who they are. Projecting your own desires or expectations onto others leads to annoyance or anger when they disappoint or fall short. By seeing and accepting others for who they are as they are, you eliminate the opportunity for resentment. Which ultimately leads to a more realistic and positive outlook.Seeing and accepting others for who they are as they are eliminates the opportunity for resentment. Click To Tweet
A Note About Boundaries
Assuming the best does not mean that inappropriate or dangerous behaviour becomes acceptable. It is important to know and enforce your personal boundaries regarding different types of relationships and interactions. Sometimes a person’s best does not meet the minimum requirement for these boundaries. In these situations there is a hard decision to make regarding the status of this person’s involvement in your life.
When I screw up, and boy have I screwed up over the years, my hope is that others will be compassionate and gentle with me. I want to do that for others – as well as for myself more in fact. Of course there is always room for growth and improvement. Goal setting and continued learning are important parts of life. On a day-to-day basis, however, I am living with positive intentions and truly trying. In other words, I am doing the best I can with what I’ve got. That is why I am now assuming the best in others as well.
Where do you stand? Do you believe that people are doing the best they can?