The Benefit of Doubt

A few weeks ago, my book club read Rising Strong, by Brene Brown. There were many gems in this short book, but one that stuck out–at least to me–was this:

“I believe that at any given moment, people are doing the best that they can.”

Now you may think that this is pretty obvious, a cliche even, but not to me. Before this book, I had never really thought about it, in fact, I had dismissed it as little more than Kumbaya claptrap. I believed the opposite. That at any given moment, people are trying to outfox you. Take advantage. Do as little as possible. Or at least (and most certainly) they are NOT doing the very best they can.

People are assholes.

Yup. That’s it. Tina’s worldview in a nutshell.

People are assholes.

Then this.

At any given moment, people are doing the very best they can.


What if this were true?

It’s true for me, isn’t it? (except for the time I used my left hand to put check marks on my students’ essays because my right was holding a half-eaten donut. Except for that time.)

So yes. It’s true for me. Most of the time.

Sometimes, though, I am doing the very worst I can.

Yesterday, for example, I got into it with some woman on Facebook, who decided to defend Scump.

Both of us were commenting on a mutual friend’s post–a black and white meme of the face with the infamous pussy-grabbing words–so it wasn’t as if I sought her out or she me. But after months and months and months of restraint (and mere days after the sKavanger senate hearing round 1), I couldn’t help myself.

I fell.


In the left hand corner, we have Stump-for-Scump, and in the right hand corner we have Self-Righteous-Indignation (me).

She swung first. (and I paraphrase)

Yes, I know what it means to be sexually assaulted (this, in response to another commenter’s query). 20 years ago, I was in a car with a manager and he told me he wanted to fuck me. So I told him to go to hell, reported him, and let my supervisor know that this was unacceptable, that if he came anywhere near me again, I’d take action.

(This is where I step in for the first time)

So how would you feel if the manager who verbally abused you and sexually harassed you then became the president of the United States?

It wouldn’t bother me. I know that people can change. He had a wife and kids, I didn’t want to ruin his life.

And then there were paragraphs and paragraphs of stream-of-consciousness ranting, interspersed with links to articles about how Hillary was a liar and how she stood by her man and gave him a free pass and how she harassed Paula Jones and Juanita Broderick and how “all you people” are hypocrites and how women do bad things too and . . . and . . . and . . .

I bit.

Goddamn it!

I bit.

Admittedly, I used all my coaching skills–listening, acknowledging her position, validating her pain–during the interchange, but I bit.

I engaged.

And I engaged without pausing, without thinking, am I doing the very best I can in this moment?

Had I, this would be a very different blog post. Or no blog post at all.

Instead, we have this hot mess.

Me doing everything BUT the best I can. Me knowingly, willingly, assertively engaging my not-so-very-best-self to seek and demolish.

Just like when straight after I willingly and knowingly and triumphantly drove to the donut store, all cylinders blasting–seek and demolish!

And then the shame.

And disappointment.

I can do better.

I know I can do better.

In fact, I have a plan to do better. Phone a friend. Go for a brisk walk. Take a shower. A hot tea. Many things. Anything. But this.

So no, I don’t think that I was doing the best that I can.

Not in this moment.

But wait.

Maybe that’s the point.

Maybe it’s not about doing the very best we can, but doing the very best we can in this moment.

And in that moment I was triggered, fired up, angry that someone (a woman, no less) could not see the world the way I do.

In that moment, I was out of my zone of best.

But even so, I didn’t call names. I didn’t diminish. I stepped away. Without having the last word. Those of you who know me know what effort that took. But I did. I just stopped.

And in that moment, that was the best, the very best that I could do.



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Categories: Reflections

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