Thursday, February 2, 2012

We're doing the best we can: The road to empathy

I couldn't figure out what to write about today, so instead of running with an idea what I've been thinking about for a while I decided to sort through the giant mess that is my delicious account. If you don't know what Delicious is yet you, read the explanation of my new found love for digital hoarding.  

In sifting through all the stuff that I tag from my phone but can't sort (because the mobile app lacks that functionality), I came across an article from Mike Robbins of the Huffington Post titled We're doing the best we can. In the article Robbins talks about how most people really aren't trying to undercut you or make your day miserable or intentionally trying to skew you over, but rather, most people are just doing the best they can. This is an important thing to remember, and for me lately this has been very important. I am extremely emotionally exhausted, not because anything is horrible or anyone did anything wrong, but because I am just doing the best I can right now, just like everyone else. 

Robbins outlines 5 things to remember when you can do and remember in relation to this: 
1) Give people the benefit of the doubt
2) Don't take things personally
3) Look for the good
4) Seek first to understand
5) Be gentle with others and especially with yourself

As long as we are also doing the best we can every day to be compassionate and to embody basic goodness and to do our work well then we are doing the best we can. 

I have two very close friends who are going through some pretty rough stuff right now. One is in an unhappy marriage that he is trying to decide if he should keep trying to fix it or if he should cut his losses and move on. The other has just resigned for a position she loves because of professional oppositions to the way that new management was treating her. 

The friend who is having a rough time with his marriage is someone I have a hard time relating to because our lives are nothing alike. Because of this I have to specifically first seek to understand the way he is feeling and the complications of the situation before I can offer any type of support, let alone advice. This is hard for me because my natural state is to jump into action to solve problems, but I am learning that nothing I can do will fix anything if I don't understand the problems first. Also, I'm having a hard time seeing why he even wants to stay to being with, but I am working hard to make sure to give him and his the benefit of the doubt. When he tells me it isn't as easy as I am making it, and that things aren't as bad as they seem, I have to pause and remember that he is in the situation, not me, and therefore I can't actually truly ever understand. That is really what giving someone the benefit of the doubt is all about. He is constantly reminding me to look for the good too instead of just seeing the bad, and because of this I can be a better friend who truly has his best interests in mind rather than just feeling sorry for him that he won't do what I want him to do. 

My other friend just recently chose to resign from a position that she has loved for 5 years, a position where she literally built an empire and where she was beloved by everyone she worked with. But the new management did not give her the benefit of the doubt for long enough to learn about her project, and they are not looking for the good at all, and they did not take time to seek to understand what she does, and because of this she chose to leave. This is a horrible horrible situation for her, and, because her work and mine are more similar it is easier for me to understand and give her the benefit of the doubt. But that doesn't mean that looking for the good in this situation is any easier. She is starting to get over the initial hurt and feelings of betrayal and is coming to a place where she can let go of this and not take it personally. And, because she is starting to see this in terms of others weaknesses rather than her own inadequacies I am confidant that in the near future she will be able to look back at this and be more gentle on the others who caused this situation now that she has realized that she needs to be gentle on herself as well.   

I am doing the best I can to be supportive of my friends in these two situations and they are doing the best they can to navigate some pretty crappy circumstances. Everyone around us every day has struggles we can't see, and because of this we must always assume the the stranger who cut us off has a daughter in the hospital or the kid who was rude when you ordered a cheeseburger has to figure out how to pay the rent this month. When we take time to apply the principal that everyone else is also doing they best they can then that brings us to a place of empathy and peace. 

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