A few weeks ago, I was reading Brené Brown’s Rising Strong: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution when all of a sudden, I had that moment. That moment being when you listen to a song, or hear a story, or watch a movie and you could almost swear that God, or the Universe, or any other type of divine intervention, designed and intended that particular message just for you. I’ll quickly acknowledge that I know the message wasn’t actually intended just for me, as I’m sure the bestseller has prompted a similar ‘aha moment’ for other readers as well. That being said, it was exactly what I needed to hear.
Long story short (but the long story is worth the read), Brown shares a personal experience that ultimately leads her on a journey to research and explore the answer to the question: “Do you think, in general, that people are doing the best they can?”
I was a Psychology major in school, due in part to the fact that the department was offering free pizza at its informational session, but more largely, because these types of questions fascinate me. I’m incredibly intrigued by human behavior and the reasoning behind why we do the things we do. This was fun. It was like a game, and I, as the reader, was invited to play. So, getting back to the question, do I think people are doing the best they can? My answer: an emphatic no.
I mean, come on. Look at the state of our world right now. Watch the news. Scroll through Twitter. No freaking way. I’m going to join what I’d expect to be the majority here and say that I’m disappointed in a lot of the things happening in our country right now. It seems that every day, I’m presented new and upsetting opportunities to doubt humanity. I’m given the chance to say, “Yup. See. Some people just suck.” And point to all the evidence I have to support that rationale.
After quickly coming to my own conclusion, I read on. I assumed others that Brown posed the question to would join me in coming to that obvious and resolute answer as well. Here’s what happened: Some did. Others didn’t. There were people that actually gave humanity, as a whole, the benefit of the doubt! I was stunned.
And here’s the part that really got me, that moment I was referencing earlier. When Brown asks her husband if he thinks people as a whole are doing the best they can, this is how he responds: “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 judgement and lets me focus on what is, and not what should or could be.”
Here’s the thing, I don’t know either. We can never really know if people are giving their best. And yet in moments of frustration, anger, and confusion, I’m quick to assume they aren’t. I become agitated by the person tailgating me, even though I have no idea why he’s in such a rush. I’m impatient with the person ahead of me in line, talking on her phone as she slowly scans her items, even though I don’t know how important her conversation is. Perhaps both are urgent. Perhaps neither are. The point is, I don’t know. And instead of choosing to believe that others are doing the best they can, it’s often easier, more comfortable, and more convenient for me to doubt them.
Yet, instead, I’d like to believe differently. I’d like to give people the benefit of the doubt, whether they deserve it or not. I’d like to choose to believe that in general, most of us are trying to do the best we can. Because maybe if I look for the good in other people, I’ll start to see more of it. Maybe if I seek kindness, I’ll experience more of it. Maybe if I smile first, they’ll smile back. Maybe other people need my compassion, empathy, and forgiveness just as much as I need theirs.
I’m human, so I’m guessing I’ll still sometimes get annoyed when people tailgate me, or when they take their sweet, distracted time ahead of me in line. I’ll be upset when people are mean on the internet or when they’re mean to their waiter. I’ll likely have moments prompting me to come back to that question and wonder to myself, whether people are really doing the best they can. At those times, I’ll do my best to remember that they’re human too and I’ll hold tight to my newfound choice to believe that yes, for the most part, they are. Because I’d like to think that similar to Brown’s husband, my life is better when I assume that people are doing their best, and perhaps that belief and my subsequent behavior will make their lives better too.