That title has been my About Me section on Facebook for some time. I wrote it almost without thought; it sounded nice. But when I reread it I liked it more than I had when I thought of it. I liked it more than I thought I could like anything I’d ever written.
What I liked most about it was the belief behind it. The belief that the world is not underperforming on our expectations, but is instead filled with people trying as hard as they can to do the best they know how.
That’s a key point for me. That the world is filled with people trying as hard as they can to do the best they know how. I struggle with this point a lot.
I, and I doubt I am alone here, find it easy to believe that I am doing my best. Of course I do the best I can, but I often struggle to allow that that fact is probably true of most others as well. That they think they are doing the best they know how.
There are a lot of people in this world that, at least at first glance, seem not to be trying very hard. You know, the kid down the hall at university who mostly just played video games and smoked weed. He was a slacker and you probably had various reasons for disliking him.
But, the more I thought about that kid, the more I realized he probably didn’t know all he could do. Sure, he could do better, but I doubt if anyone ever showed him how. His parents were probably distant and more involved with their futures than his. His teachers probably didn’t make sure he learned much; as long as he wasn’t failing they were happy. His friends were probably much like himself, well off and unaware of their advantages. Unaware of what advantages are.
And certainly he wasn’t doing much to make the world a better place, in whatever way I thought he should. But I find it hard to believe that he was earnestly and intentionally wasting time that he was aware could be spent doing other more useful things.
This little phrase reminds me that not everyone has had the advantages that I have had. That by virtue of the color of my skin, my state and country of residence, my parents, and my environment, I’ve been given a great deal more than most other people have ever gotten. And I’ve not had to work too exceptionally hard to get it.
These are things that may change what I think is the best I can do, but they don’t change the fact that you’re probably doing your best as well.
And even if you can’t actually believe that everyone around you is doing the best they can, there is another reason to use this phrase. It’s aspirational.
It’s useful to believe that others are doing the best they can, and that you can do it too. Maybe you doubt that fact, but wouldn’t it be more productive to assume that they are doing their best and act accordingly? To try to match yourself with your own high expectations, and not wait for the world to prove to you that it’s really good enough for you?
I think it’s more useful to believe the best and fear the worst than to believe the worst and hope for (or is it fear?) the best. It’s more useful for our own mental state to see the best rather than the worst in people. To watch for their success rather than where they falter.
And though I don’t alway succeed in that quest for the best, I’m willing and ready to try.