We’re All Doing the Best We Can

November 3, 2011

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I’m sometimes amazed and embarrassed by how critical I can be – both of other people and of myself.  Even though I both teach and practice the power of appreciation (as well as acceptance, compassion, and more) when I find myself feeling scared, threatened, or insecure (which happens more often than I’d like it to), I notice that I can be quite judgmental.  Sadly, as I’ve learned throughout my life, being critical and judgmental never works, feels good, or leads me to what I truly want in my relationships and in my life.  Can you relate to this?

I’ve recently been challenged by a few situations and relationships that have triggered an intense critical response – both towards myself and some of the people around me.  As I’ve been noticing this, working through it, and looking for alternative ways to respond, I’m reminded of something I heard Louise Hay say on a number of years ago.  She said, “It’s important to remember that people are always doing the best they can, including you.”

The power of this statement resonated with me deeply when I heard it and continues to have an impact on me to this day.  And, although I sometimes forget this, when I do remember that we’re all doing the best we can given whatever tools and resources we have, and the circumstances and situations we’re experiencing, it usually calms me down and creates a sense of empathy and compassion for the people I’m dealing with and for myself.

Unfortunately, too often we take things personally that aren’t, look for what’s wrong, and critically judge the people around us and ourselves, instead of bringing a sense of love, understanding, acceptance, forgiveness, and appreciation to the most important (and often most challenging) situations and relationships in our lives.

When we take a step back and remember that most of the time people aren’t “out to get us,” purposefully doing things to upset or annoy us, or consciously trying to make mistakes, disappoint us, or create difficulty (they’re simply doing the best they can and what they think makes the most sense) – we can save ourselves from unnecessary overreactions and stress.  And, when we’re able to have this same awareness and compassion in how we relate to ourselves, we can dramatically alter our lives and relationships in a positive way.

Here are some things you can do and remember in this regard:

  • Give people the benefit of the doubt. Most of the time people have good intentions.  Many of us, myself included, have been trained to be cautious and suspicious of others, even seeing this as an important and effective skill in life and business.  However, we almost always get what we expect from people, so the more often we give people the benefit of the doubt, the more often they will prove us “right,” and the less often we will waste our precious time and energy on cynicism, suspicion, and judgment.
  • Don’t take things personally. One of my favorite sayings is, “You wouldn’t worry about what other people think about you so much, if you realized how little they actually did.”  The truth is that most people are focused on themselves much more than on us.  Too often in life we take things personally that have nothing to do with us.  This doesn’t mean we let people walk all over us or treat us in disrespectful or hurtful ways (it can be important for us to speak up and push back at times in life).  However, when we stop taking things so personally, we liberate ourselves from needless upset, defensiveness, and conflict.
  • Look for the good. Another way to say what I mentioned above about getting what we expect from other people, is that we almost always find what we look for.  If you want to find some things about me that you don’t like, consider obnoxious, or get on your nerves – just look for them, I’m sure you’ll come up with some.  On the flip side, if you want to find some of my best qualities and things you appreciate about me, just look for those – they are there too.  As Werner Erhard said, “In every human being there is both garbage and gold, it’s up to us to choose what we pay attention to.” Looking for the good in others (as well as in life and in ourselves), is one of the best ways to find things to appreciate and be grateful for.
  • Seek first to understand. Often when we’re frustrated, annoyed, or in conflict with another person (or group of people), we don’t feel seen, heard, or understood.  As challenging and painful as this can be, one of the best things we can do is to shift our attention from trying to get other people to understand us (or being irritated that it seems like they don’t), is to seek to understand the other person (or people) involved in an authentic way. This can be difficult, especially when the situation or conflict is very personal and emotional to us. However, seeking to understand is one of the best ways for us to liberate ourselves from the grip of criticism and judgment, and often helps shift the dynamic of the entire thing. Being curious, understanding, and even empathetic of another person and their perspective or feelings doesn’t mean we agree with them, it simply allows us to get into their world and see where they’re coming from – which is essential to letting go of judgment, connecting with them, and ultimately resolving the conflict.
  • Be gentle with others (and especially with yourself). Being gentle is the opposite of being critical. When we’re gentle, we’re compassionate, kind, and loving. We may not like, agree with, or totally understand what someone has done (or why), but we can be gentle in how we respond and engage with them. Being gentle isn’t about condoning or appeasing anyone or anything, it’s about having a true sense of empathy and perspective. And, the most important place for us to bring a sense of gentleness is to ourselves. Many of us have a tendency to be hyper self-critical. Sadly, some of the harshest criticism we dole out in life is aimed right at us. Another great saying I love is, “We don’t see people as they are, we see them as we are.” As we alter how we relate to ourselves, our relationship to everyone else and to the world around us is altered in a fundamental way.

As the Dalai Lama so brilliantly says, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” Everyone around us – our friends, co-workers, significant other, family members, children, service people, clients, and even people we don’t know or care for – are doing the best they can, given the resources they have. When we remember this and come from a truly compassionate perspective (with others and with ourselves), we’re able to tap into a deeper level of peace, appreciation, and fulfillment.

Where in your life are you most critical of others and yourself?  How can you let go of your criticism and bring more compassion to your relationships and to how you relate to yourself?  Share your ideas, commitments, thoughts, dreams, and more on my blog below.

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  1. This is such a great reminder of how a simple shift in attitude or mindset can work wonders! I think I am often very quick to get defensive when I feel that someone is wronging me or intentionally acting towards me. However, you are right and I think this is generally not the case. When you step outside the situation and have compassion for the person, it sheds a completely different light on the matter. I think this is a practice that gets easier with time, and I appreciate you bringing up this topic! Having compassion always makes you feel better too, all warm and gooey inside! 🙂

  2. Hello Mike
    Thank you for your helpful insight. One of the things you mentioned about seeing the good in people, my grandaddy in his wisdom had taught me by example to see only the good in people. Thank you for your wisdom and knowledge.

  3. Mike,
    I really hate being such a cynic, but your friend Louise is dead wrong.

    Her quote, “It’s important to remember that people are always doing the best they can, including you” is naïve and reckless, and is only made exponentially worse by her use of the cognitive distortion ‘always’. Yikes!

    In fact, you go so far as to almost directly contradict this naïveté in helpful tip #2 when you say, “The truth is that most people are focused on themselves much more than on us.” You’re dead-on accurate and to me that’s certainly not people doing the best they can!

    The vast majority of the general populace that I encounter and interact with on a daily basis are lazy, self-absorbed automatons going through life unconsciously on cruise control. They are far from any conception of self-awareness, how their actions and behaviors affect others, and because of their self-absorption, are far from doing the best that they can.

    Perhaps if you were to modify and qualify the statement with, “At this stage of their development…” or “Given their experiential and genetic preconditions…” it would make more sense, but as is, it’s tough to stomach.

    I pride myself in being a pretty self-aware, conscious and generally enlightened guy, yet I struggle mightily each and every day to remain in what I call my ‘higher functioning self’ where I am consistently doing the best that I can.

    Alas, perhaps this is just me being critical and judgmental.

    Anyway, my heartfelt thanks, as usual, for sending the though provoking newsletter and for consistently promoting positivity. It is greatly appreciated.

    Be well,


  4. Mike – thank you for these eye-opening words (We’re all doing the best we can). This pretty much describes me to a tee. LOL. Reading this has helped me to refocus on the good and see how I can easily get stuck in the rut of the mentality that you describe here. The last couple of weeks I have been going through some challenging times and am guilty of handling them with far less tact than what I’m proud of. I appreciate your great work. It really helps to hear that I can take a step back and try and figure out how to make some of these positive changes. Have a great week!

  5. Jorgito24 de setembro de 2010Quero deixar uma sugestão ao Marcos Pinheiro, quando vc for fazer resenha sobre algum show de alguma banda que não é de sua preferência musical, faça um favor a todos a limitar-se a falar apenas sobre o show, pois falar que Wind Of Chance é uma música “chatinha” é demais sinceramente! Algumas opiniões são totalmente desnecessárias.

  6. To Me, God is that brilliant, soft white light that doesn’t hurt your eyes, a rythmic breathing in and out, the most comforting warmth, the feeling of complete contentment, when in His presence, you feel that you are completely known, and accepted, and there is being in true one-ness, and utter stillness. Like an atom turned inside out.

    • FIFA how eloquently spoken. I very much appreciate you putting into words, what I sense and feel is a universal connection with loving source energy.
      Thank-you once again!


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