Saturday, September 8, 2018

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, September 8, 2018 - People Never Don’t Do Their Best

All around us we find people who are angry, hurt, sick, lonely, vengeful. How do we cope with that? Are we supposed to constantly just look away, trying to think of something more pleasant, ignoring the reality of suffering in our world? Why not? People do it all the time.
Early in life we are taught to always do our best. What does that mean? Often it seems that doing our best means living up to the expectations of people we love, respect or admire rather than our own actual best. Exactly whose best are we expected to be doing?
The truth is we never don’t do our own version of “best.” We constantly strive to feel better, live better, to end cycles of anger and torment inside ourselves, to be stronger, even when it looks like the opposite. Even when it is the opposite. That is the prime directive of all species, including human. Strive to improve. Work to flourish. Fail in order to succeed.
Which brings us to the concept of capacity. How capable are you of living up to the standards of modern society? And what are they? To live compassionately, honestly, abundantly, faithfully and lovingly. That appears to be what society asks of us. Can you do it? Do you have the capacity to live a principled life?
Few of us do. At least not to the extent we would prefer. So what is a person’s individual capacity to live well? It’s different for each of us. Because each of us sees life through a different lens, a different set of experiences, a different set of wounds. We many of us perceive life almost exclusively through our pain and make our daily choices using that as our guide. We know not what we do. Nor whom we hurt. In our attempt to feel better we often leave a wake of destruction.
But even in this, even when we are at our lowest, we never fail to do our best. We are doing the very best we are capable of at any given moment. Choosing what we feel will create the most relief, if not the most joy, if not the least pain. We do things to feel better. Sometimes we make deliberate sacrifices because we think we will feel better about it in the end. Or because we love someone so much we give endlessly of ourselves. Even to the death.
When you look at someone, what do you see? Whose best are you evaluating them against? When someone has to make a choice between theft and hunger (because sometimes people are down enough to see no other options) they will choose the one that they think will make them feel better. To be desperately hungry is to know firsthand how low the moral bar can go. People never don’t move toward comfort. Even when theft is the answer they feel compelled to choose.
When someone suffers from addiction, what is their capacity? Of what are they actually capable? For many, there is literally no capacity to save themselves. All better options are invisible to them. The thought of quitting their drug of choice is equal to the thought of deliberately killing a loved one. What is their capacity to turn away from that lie? Their neck is stuck and their eyes glued to it. Tricked into believing there is only one choice for survival: More of the same.
It’s easy to see how trauma, illness and abuse can become like mythological demons setting up house in our psyches. They grow into seemingly rabid personalities vying for your full attention at all costs. Lying to you, distorting the truth, limiting your capacity to thrive, withholding you from doing a little better than your best to date.
A wounded soul never doesn’t do their best to feel better. Remember that. Because it’s true no matter who we are talking about. Think about this when faced with challenging people. They are doing their best. Think of this when wondering how someone can be so evil, so twisted, so lost. They too, are doing their best, even when it’s a far cry from what we expect of them.
The key to it all is helping others to expand their list of options, and remembering to expand our own as well. Keep learning, keep healing, keep examining. Raise others up. But most of all, remember that the most direct pathway to forgiveness—the literal easing of your heart—is to recognize that even those about whom you are the most angry, the most afraid, the most distrusting, are still human. They are doing their best to survive, too. And they often make bad choices. Help protect them from themselves by being loving in our actions toward them. Be generous also in your prayers for them, because they do not have the capacity for the same. Yet.

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