I once had an interesting conversation with a friend on Twitter. She’d put out a poll asking her followers to vote on the question:
‘Do you genuinely believe that people are doing the best that they can?’
When I read this question, I smiled knowing with certainty what my answer would be, and also knowing she could possibly have an array of questions based on my answer.
My answer was: ‘Yes, they are.’
I know you may be reading this now thinking, ‘How in the world, LaYinka?! How in the world are all people doing the best that they can?’ You’re reading this, thinking of all the people you know that this can’t possibly apply to, right?
Here’s the thing: People are doing the best they can with the resources they have. Now, that’s a huge distinction, right?
Think about it. We have a thing where we slap labels such as ‘lazy’ onto people, simply based on the things they do and don’t do; based on behaviour we deem to fit the label. This perception we have leads us to talk to and behave towards them in a certain way, simply because we believe they have resources they don’t actually have. We’re essentially labelling them based on our belief that they have what they don’t.
For example, if you see someone and label them as lazy because of what we consider to be lazy behaviour, what is actually true is that they are lacking motivation at that moment in time. So in a space where someone has a lack of motivation, they’re doing the best they can without motivation. What we’re seeing is lazy behaviour or what we consider to be lazy behaviour; yet what they’re seeing and feeling is: ‘I’m actually just out here surviving (with the little I have).’
Likewise, for someone who has mental health struggles such as depression: Getting out of bed in the morning and brushing their teeth might be the most energy and motivation they have that day; the most they have to give that day. Yet, people on the outside might say, ‘They’re not even trying’, ‘They’re not making an effort’, ‘They’re being a victim to their mental health issue’. And here’s the truth: They have very little to go by, and the little that they do have, they’re doing the best with it.
I feel and see so much importance in holding onto the assumption that people are doing the best they can with what they have available because it fosters and increases compassion and empathy for one another. It leads us to feel and think differently, which leads us to treat one another differently, too.
Imagine: Someone struggles to give themselves love. It makes sense that they struggle to be affectionate with you, right? If they don’t have love to give themselves, or find it a challenge to give it to themselves, then they are truly doing the best they can with whatever they do have. And through accepting this and embracing this, your perception of them softens.
What a balm to the heart!
This shift in your perception gives you the opportunity to hold space for people with compassion, and accept them for how they are right now, knowing that it’s just right now. At every given moment, we may have a little bit more; likewise, someone else might have a little bit more in a different moment, so they could choose something different and use greater resources at a different time. It’s beautiful to embrace the thought that: Right now, with what they have, they’re doing the best they can, and by Allah’s grace, they will have much more in future to do even better.
Look at someone in your life who may be struggling, or who you may have a negative view of due to the things that they do, and consider that they are doing the best with what they have.
What changes for you? And how do you show up differently?