The world just seems like a tough place to be a person these days. Or at least our country does. Things are so divided and people really seem to believe that anyone not on “their team” is the true enemy and some sort of bad person. While I could probably go on and on a bit about the social psychology behind this (in group/out group bias anyone? Black and white thinking anyone?) OR about how this is all encouraged by social media, I think it might be more helpful to share a bit about how I try to make sense of things to help myself cope when things feel challenging.
For me, the key is this… Even when the world feels like an awful place, I believe that people are doing the best they can in their situation. I try hard to remember that people are just people and that most people are genuinely trying to do the right thing, whatever they think that might be.
The follow up is this… the best they can does not always look like the best that you think they should have been able to do or the best you believe you would have been able to do in their position.
Sometimes the best you can do on one day is not the best you would be able to do on another day. As people, our performance, decision making, and general abilities are not always consistent from moment to moment. And for me, this is an important principle to think about more in reality and less theoretically.
For example, when you hear a story about someone on paper making a mistake, it is easy to theoretically think, “well they should have done this.” Or it’s easy for a sports fan to be a critic of the plays called and the mistakes made that led to their team losing the game. However, it is a much different thing to be the person out there making those mistakes or decisions under pressure and with a million other variables that are going to impact performance. While I would most likely not be willing to bet that even a top performing player will always come through in the end when it counts, I would bet anything that they would try their best because they are working for something of significant value to them.
The thing is that I also believe that people generally try their best to do the right thing… we just might not agree about what “right” means. Sports are easy examples because the goals are obvious - to win as much as possible. Life is generally more complicated than that. Our values and personal goals are not always so easy to communicate, identify, or even in our own awareness. Here’s what I have come to also believe given my line of work, there is always a reason why people do things the way they do. Plus, we are more alike than we are different.
While this lens can be challenging at times, particularly in our current climate socially and politically, I find that this lens helps me make sense of things and helps me keep more of an open mind and a kind, compassionate hard with everyone even when we don’t necessarily agree about things. To help me with this, I try to ask myself what is the most generous or compassionate interpretation of this situation? Especially with the people I am closest to, I find that this is the lens that helps me understand them but also how we can connect and understand each other better. It's way better than creating a narrative in my head about how I am right and everyone else is wrong. And when I say it is better, I mean that it is better for me, my peace of mind, but also for my relationships.
While we all face the upcoming turmoil that seems anticipated for the coming election season in addition to the unrest already at play in our world, I hope this is a helpful reflection for some of our readers!
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"Watch your thoughts,
They become words.
Watch your words,
They become actions.
Watch your actions,
They become habits.
Watch your habits,
They become character;
It becomes your destiny."