Doing the best we can

Do you ever read things and find they get under your skin somehow? A bit like a splinter, wiggling around where they shouldn’t be, irritating you, creating a mad search for something to remove it?

I’m reading this book at the moment and the author has made a claim that is doing just that. I can’t get it out of my head and I can’t decide if I like it or not.

She said, “everyone is doing the best they can”.

Ridiculously simple, yet with such considerable implications that I just can’t stop mulling it over in my mind.

In all honesty, I should love this. It should inspire me to the greatest heights of compassion and lead me into a state of grace so blissful I will wonder why I have delved in the depths for so long. It should, but it doesn’t.

At least, not yet.

I have a suspicion I will come to love this idea. There is a place where it resonates somewhere in my bones, but there is a big ol’ wall of resistance between here and that place.

So I’m trying to figure out why.

The brunt of it is, if this is true, that means this is my best. This is me doing the best I know how to do right now. But the truth is, I just can’t stomach the idea that this is my best. This? This messy, fucked up, rollercoaster me? In this body, with this level of emotional intelligence, at this point in my career, this is my best?

But if I could do better, does it not seem to follow reason that I would?

And I’m not, so maybe what this writer says is true. Maybe this is the very best that I can do right now. Maybe I am giving it all I have and being an ungracious asshole is not really necessary.

This is just so far from where I want to be, so far from what I think I should be. Maya Angelou said, “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”

The other side of it is, other people suck too. I don’t think it’s just me. People are shitty and messy and sometimes they really suck. We get hurt, we have to try to forgive each other, it’s not really that fun.

So when this author said to me that people are doing their best, that means this is it. Which means I have to knock my expectations down by miles. Which means, we have to keep wading through the shit, keep bumping up against each other in ways that hurt. Don’t get me wrong, there are many, many good days, good weeks, good months, but eventually, the rough stuff comes back, it always does. Because we are still human and it seems, we will always be imperfect.

How annoying.

What if the people who I love and who love me are doing the very best they can as well? My husband, my family, my very best friends, all of them doing the best they know how. If that’s true, then I have asked more of you than you could give, I have failed to recognize your best and appreciate you for it.

Take a step outside of my more intimate relationships and into the world of my work. Of course, there are lovely inspiring stories, but there are also quite a few that make you want to tear your hair out. The man who drinks himself wild and squanders the small income he gets, while his wife and children go another day hungry. The woman who leaves her children alone for days while she visits her boyfriend in the next town over. Can I believe they are doing the best they know how to do? Can I see them with the compassion such a belief necessitates?

The author says, those of us who struggle with perfectionism, struggle most with this idea. Those who understand we are all imperfect and will continue to be, have less difficulty with the proposition. I want to judge them, and I want to judge me. I want to believe that we not only can do better, but that we should be doing better and if we really wanted to, we would do better. I am not ready to release myself from the expectation of perfection and I am not ready to release anyone else from it either. I want out of the mess. It is uncomfortable and complicated here. I want to hold onto the belief that I can rise above this, into some blissed out state where I am never disappointed again. I know, I sound like a spoiled child.

Of course, I see how perfectionist ideas don’t serve me. How they keep me steeping in disappointment and frustrated. I can see how believing that everyone is doing the best they can breeds compassion, how it sows seeds of grace. But dear friends, there is no such thing as a free lunch. If you choose to see people in this way, it requires a bit of work.

It means practicing forgiveness and choosing compassion a hell of a lot. For those whom I bump up against and hurt or get hurt by, those who seem stuck in the struggle despite efforts to help them out, and for myself as well. It means letting myself off the hook for my own failings. Steeping in grace instead of expectation.

So for now, I hold it in a place of consideration, letting it rumble around in my chest and find its way into my heart.

People, all people, are doing the best that they know how to do.

When we know better, we do better.

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This photo was taken as part of an art project with said author mentioned above. Makeup-free and embracing imperfection? Maybe 😉

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