Are people doing the best they can?

This weekend I finished the audio version of Brené Brown's new book Rising Strong.

Y'all. This book broke my brain. 

If you are unfamiliar with Brené's work, stop what you are doing and watch this Ted Talk. 

She is AMAZING. Her teachings on shame and vulnerability, including her books The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are and Daring Greatly, instruct everything I do. Her insights have helped me re-evaluate my relationships, my work, my creative process, my parenting. 

In Rising Strong, she advocates "getting curious" about our emotions... in particular, when we are feeling self-righteous.

Not going to lie. I'm REAL good at feeling self-righteous. It's my go-to emotion when I'm feeling hurt or angry or unappreciated. During one of Brené's own bouts of self-righteousness, her therapist asks her a powerful question.

"Do you think people are doing the best they can?"

Brené answers with a resounding, "NO!" And as she goes on to explain why the "sewer rats and scofflaws" are keeping us all from living big, I found myself yelling along with the radio. 

"EXACTLY! You tell them Brené!"

It's SO HARD to assume the best of people when they are hurting us or shaming us or even ignoring us. I don't want to assume the passive agressive woman at church is really doing the best she can. I don't even want to assume the best of people I dearly love - like my own husband - when I'm in the midst of feeling resentful and angry.

However, we've all been on the other side of judgment and pain. We've all been someone else's "sewer rat and scofflaw" and we all know that - at that time - we were doing the best we could.

Now hear me, that doesn't mean we were doing THE BEST THERE WAS TO DO. 

When I yell at my four-year-old, I know it's not the best I'm capable of - objectively speaking. However, in that moment, considering my stress level, my energy level, and God knows what else I am doing the best I can with the tools available to me. I don't love him any less in that moment then when I am patient and calm. I'm just doing the best I can.

It's Brené's husband Steve who eventually states what feels like trurth to me. When she asks him if people are doing the best they can, he answers, “I don’t know. I really don’t. All I know is that my life is better when I assume that people are doing their best. It keeps me out of judgment and lets me focus on what is, and not what should or could be.”

She then quickly addresses the "murderers, assassins, and terrorists" question we all have.

Are murderer really doing the best they can?

Her answer?

Yes, but their best is DANGEROUS. 

And that's when my brain broke. I've been struggling recently with the concept of choice and personal responsibility, when it comes to my kids and when it comes to society as a whole. As we learn more and more about how the brain responds under stress, how can we really ascribe choice and then punishment to people who are suffering under incredibly difficult situations - from poverty to addiction to trauma? With regards to the little terrorists I live with on a daily basis, how can we punish a four-year-old who literally can't act differently? 

The brilliance of her answer is it separates EFFORT FROM RESULT.

Yes, you are doing the best you can and we acknowledge your humanity and suffering. However, the result of your actions are important as well. Whether you are hitting your brother or committing murder, why you did what you did is separate from why we can't allow you to do that again.

So, what do y'all think? Are people doing the best they can?

P.S. 5 Powerful People Who Keep Me Motivated

POLL TIME: Are people doing the best they can?

Posted by Sarah Stewart Holland on Wednesday, October 14, 2015