Is everyone doing the best they can?
I posted an unsuccessful TikTok the other day where I asked people to Stitch a question. For those of you who are not on TikTok, to “Stitch” means that someone crops the part of my video where I ask a question or state something, and then they respond to it. The question I asked was, “What’s a phrase or saying you both love and hate?” My answer to this question was “People are doing the best they can with what they have”.
Do you agree?
I love this saying because I think we all are at a certain capacity at any point in the day. We all come from a lineage of ancestors who endured and/or inflicted trauma - trauma that is undoubtedly passed down to us. We also might identify with an oppressed identity or identities. We may have personal losses. And on top of it all, we are living in capitalism which thrives off the divisions of class, race, gender, and ability. It has erased Indigenous ways of knowing and disconnects us from our bodies.
So yes, I think we’re doing the best we can with what we have.
But then there are people like Donald Trump or racist or abusive or misogynistic or you-name-it people who I don’t want to say are doing the best they can because they are shitty jerks. They harm people and laugh about it. They don’t care about giving up their power. They gaslight and bully. They are literally responsible for killing people whether that’s denying them healthcare or funding the police or defunding education or killing the ecosystem, amongst other injustices. This is murder, the insidious kind where the murderers can easily deny responsibility. My heart gets fired up and panicked just thinking about it.
So, I hate this. I hate saying that these heartless, greedy, white supremacists are doing the best they can with what they have.
But, the thing is, I believe it.
I think the problem with this saying starts when people use it as a crutch or use it as an excuse to skirt responsibility and accountability. This is not okay.
We are all accountable to ourselves, our communities, the environment, and the universe. This is not a choice. What we do affects everyone else. If someone wants to yell “get off my lawn,” many effects are produced. It can create anger for the lawn hoarder and the lawn lounger. It creates alienation and supremacy. It informs law and policies. It’s a perfect storm of interdependence ignored in favor of false independence. Yet, it creates an interdependent rupture in relationship, community, and care.
So while the lawn hoarder might be doing the best they can with what they have, that doesn’t absolve them from trying to do better. That doesn’t mean they cannot create self-awareness, understand the source of their anger, and question their belief systems.
“Doing the best you can” is an origin story of sorts. Origin stories aren’t always clear-cut. They are usually filled with pain, joy, mistakes, and remembrances. Oh, the remembrances. How we remember things isn’t always the same as others. Recently, in family therapy, I’ve learned that my mom doesn’t remember critical moments in my life where I felt very harmed by her. But at the same time, she has brought up parts of her life I was a part of, and they do not ring a bell at all to me. Our remembrances are filled with the ways we made meaning in different contexts and relationships. And they can only be addressed or reconciled if they are shared. But sharing requires vulnerability and vulnerability requires safety, and this all circles back to doing the best we can.
The thing with origin stories is that they don’t determine the future. They say, “This is why it was the best you could do.” They do not say, “This is how you’ll always do.” They do not say, “You never caused harm.” But they do say, “What will you do now? What is within your capacity for your responsibility? How can you be accountable? How can you ask for help?”
Coming to the realization to take a look at your origin story with a critical and conscious eye doesn’t happen for everyone. For those of us who have this conscious and critical awareness, it’s hard to even understand why someone wouldn’t want to venture in that direction. Ultimately, we are a mirror for others. When we hold a mirror up, and there is a clear retraumatization that arises from that relationship that shows the other person’s harmful and severe self-protective mechanisms, we start to protect ourselves too! So no, we don’t want to think they’re doing the best they can, even if they are, because we need to save ourselves. We don’t have the energy to enter a relationship with that person and have compassion. So we don’t have the space to see that they’re doing the best they can with what they have because the best they’re doing is fucking you up.
Obviously, this is not okay. But what this shows is how you have started, and continue, to be aware and heal. Your awareness, your lack of tolerance, and your ability to know that you can do better than the best you’ve done before are shining through. And you see it on a collective level too. Oh, how beautiful that is! This isn’t romantic, it’s messy, but you can still nurture messy.
And you can find community that gives a loving nod to their origin story and finds ways to be in solidarity. You can learn how to be grounded so that the harm from others doesn’t penetrate your energetic bubble. You can do the best you can do with what you have. And do it again.
I’d love to hear what you think, even if you strongly disagree!