“We’re doing the best we can right?”
I answered “no.” Then immediately felt strange about my answer. For almost 15 years I’ve held the belief that we are all doing the best we can. Assuming that we are all doing the best we can has been the cornerstone of my inner work on becoming more compassionate towards my fellow human beings. This belief allowed me to forgive my biological father for not being around and then later forgive myself for making the same mistakes as he. I’ve become slower to anger, kinder, more accepting and find it easy to put myself in the shoes of those around me.
I was in graduate school the first time I heard “we’re all doing the best we can.” My group therapy professor said it once in class and then I later heard it over and again from an internship supervisor; it was one of her go to feedback lines. I quickly attached to this idea and the whole world seemed better after looking at it through this way of thinking.
But in that moment with Katy, as she was trying to make me feel better about the fact that I wasn’t cleaning up around the house as much as I wanted to (being the stay-at-home dad that I am), my gut reaction was, “no. I’m definitely not doing the best I can.”
I had to sit with this answer for a little while before it dawned on me that I’m so accustomed to thinking we’re all doing the best we can that I have forgotten the second and most important of the phrase.
Kind of like when people say “money is the root of all evil” when it’s actually “the love of money is the root of all evil.”
Or one of my favorite bible quotes: “All things work out for the good for those who love Life….”
Which seems all good at first, but the second part of that statement is far more important than the first: “All things work out for the good for those who love Life AND are called to do Its Purpose.”
It is a call to action. You must be working for Life if you have any expectation of Life working for you. This type of call to action is missing in the phrase “we’re all doing the best we can.” But it is subtly represented in the second half and often forgotten part of the sentence:
“…within the limits of our understanding at the time.”
When I know better, I do better. A lesson I’ve been relearning over the past few weeks.
But knowing better requires action. If our best behavior is determined by our understanding, then it is our responsibility to be in an active state of increasing that understanding. Our day to day activities need to include a devoted study to those things that are important to feeding our souls; we must create interactions with others that increase our awareness of how we are showing up in the world; we must perform regular self-reflective loops of inquiry to challenge beliefs that no longer serve us.
Or in this case, have served us well but now need to be embraced fully.
Beauty improves upon beauty. The dance of being alive is about climbing the spiral staircase of understanding until we allow ourselves to be as beautiful as we were the day we were born:
Free, Clear, and Passionate about Living.
That’s the best we can do.