“We're all doing our best” said Ryk in the post I shared yesterday and today, David Whyte said in his online course about Self-Compassion: “ We should have patience towards others knowing that everyone is struggling. As a friend of mine says, “Everyone’s doing their best— and it’s never very good.’ You’re doing your best, but so is everyone else and that’s the place where we can meet.”
On some deep level, I fully embrace this idea. We’re all the walking wounded. If only we knew each other’s stories, our compassion would grow exponentially. Think of a child who is withdrawn and doesn’t participate in your class and then you find out their beloved grandparent had just died. Your initial reaction of impatience or even anger is replaced by understanding and compassion.
And yet. Are we all really doing our best? Could we really say that about King Leopold, Hitler, Papa Doc, Idi Amin, Trump, Mitch McConnell, the Proud Boys, the Qanon followers, etc. etc. etc? On one hand, we could delve into their childhoods and try to see how the people they became were an obvious consequence of the trauma they experienced. We could consider that had we had their experiences, we might have not acted any differently. But still.
To take it down a notch, are the people standing by silently in the face of purposeful hurting doing their best? Or the teachers gathered around the water cooler outraged about an action from the head suddenly silent and withdrawn when a colleague speaks up in the staff meeting? And where is the line between understanding behaviors and standing up against them? Between empathy and accountability? Between imagining that people are doing the best they can and demanding that they, that all of us, do better? Every day, in myself, in the people I know, in the people I read about in the news, I see countless examples of people not doing their best. (And note—that includes me.) And so I want to be cautious about too casually accepting “we are all doing our best” as gospel truth.
It seems like there is but one step to actually doing our best. It is to simply acknowledge that we are wounded, we are less than whole, we are perpetually “on the way.” And that simple step is what actually puts us on the way. Once on the way, we’ll need more. Stay tuned tomorrow.