Last week, I received an email which had my stress level rising before I’d even read it – the subject title alone got me going. I was pretty sure I knew exactly what the email was about, and unfortunately, reading it confirmed my suspicions. I was also fairly confident I knew why the email had been sent, and was having a difficult time keeping my emotions from rising to the occasion.
As I began to mentally form a response, two wise voices started saying things in my head.
The first voice was Ben’s, because he always says, “You can never be too gracious.”
The second voice was Brene Brown, who says:
I had to think these things over for a little while. The ungracious, defensive part of me felt the email was critical, but how could I interpret it in the best way possible? I decided to take it as someone’s well-meaning intention to show care and concern, rather than criticism, even though it was hard for me to actually appreciate their input.
I wrote the most gracious response I could come up with, and then deleted the email so I wouldn’t be tempted to go back to it.
Remember how we make up stories in our heads? It can be easy to take a comment or email the wrong way, and make up all kinds of reasons as to why someone would say or do something annoying or even hurtful. But more and more, I’m seeing how I need to make generous assumptions of other people – when they question my choices, or when I’m mentally questioning theirs! Can I assume everyone is trying their best? That doesn’t mean it’s THE best, or even THEIR best, but could I at least say that in their situation, with their current resources and abilities, they are trying their best?
I remember a friend once saying, “Nobody sets out to make really bad decisions on purpose.” We all have our reasons, our weaknesses, and our moments. I’m trying my hardest, but I fall short, and I need a lot of grace. So does everybody else.
Now, I am completely aware of the fact that sometimes, it does NOT look like people are trying their best. It was hard to make generous assumptions this morning when I went to check on my girls’ bedroom after I asked them to clean it up, and it was still a bit of a disaster. Was it their best? Probably not.
And I’ll never forget the day when my high school gym teacher made some assumptions about my performance on the basketball court. He stopped the game, and came storming over to me with whistle blowing, arms waving, and voice yelling, completely humiliating me in front of the whole class.
He assumed I didn’t care about doing my best, but what he didn’t understand was that I cared too much – I was so worried about making a fool of myself, it was self-protection to not try, because when I was purposely not trying, no one could see how bad I still was if I actually tried.
When I think back to that painful memory, it makes me wonder if people (even children who are asked to clean up their rooms) are held back in some way from doing their best. When Kaylia goes into an overwhelmingly messy room, she shuts down. She uses a variety of tactics to avoid cleaning it up, because her brain just can’t take it in. If I hand her one item at a time, she has no problems taking that item and returning it to the right place. I’m trying to teach her how to do this on her own – don’t look at the pile, just grab one item, figure out where it goes, and keep repeating until it’s all done. But that’s really hard for her. She’s held back from her best.
So let’s say we’re all trying our best, or we have issues holding us back from our best – I’d say either one calls for grace and generous assumptions.
I want to learn to expect the best from people. And when they can’t give it, I want the sensitivity to realize we are all held back with old hurts and emotional baggage, but usually, we’re all trying really hard.
What’s the most generous assumption I can make?