Free-for-all Friday

In Rising Strong, Brene Brown discusses an experience that happened to her prior to a speaking engagement. The conference organizers arranged for her to share a hotel room with a woman for whom (how to say this delicately?) cleanliness was not next to godliness. Brene was so grossed out, angry, and insulted that she found herself rehashing the experience for several people. One asked her, “Do you think it’s possible that your roommate was doing the best she could that weekend?”


It’s a powerful question. In fact the scope of that question changed Brene’s life. And it gave me pause because this simple yes or no question has implications for how we see and respond to the world. This can apply to individuals or groups. How about the guy on the subway who yells at me because I’m not moving fast enough for his liking? Or the co-worker who emails me three times before noon to say that the schedule I provided is unacceptable, even though I’m doing the best can? Are these people just doing the best they can?

Writers: Ask your main character! His or her answer may surprise you.

I’d like to turn this question over to all of you and share more of Brene Brown’s discoveries in comments. What do you think? Are people doing the best they can? 






  1. Sam says, “When it matters, when someone’s life or liberty is on the line, character is evident by how you handle it. If it was your kid or your friend, how would you want it to go? Sometime’s the best you can just ain’t good enough. Then it’s time to go sell shoes.”

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  2. I think I’m going to have to get this book. We’ve all found ourselves in these types of situations; on both sides, so caught up in our own troubles, frustrations and limitations on time and resources we very rarely take the time to “walk a mile in the other guy’s moccasins”. Perhaps we should be more aware of others’ situations. Of course, that would mean stepping out of our own “worlds” and entering, if only for the briefest of moments, someone else’s.
    I don’t know if it’s a “do-able thing” most of the time. After all, it would require us to realize we’re not the most important being in a given set of circumstances, not the “the center of the universe”. But then isn’t that the real problem? That we think of ourselves as being so important the world has to bend to our will? Perhaps, if we were to strive to be more mindful of others, we would come to see ourselves as less alone, and therefore suffer less from those feelings of anger, frustration and fear that lead us into these (almost) daily confrontations and do little more than intensify our feelings of helplessness.

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    1. This book has been a challenging read for me. It has forced me to address the way I move through the world and relate to others. I loved your point about striving to be more mindful of others. Brene Brown discusses that quite often in her book. That’s one reason this question got her so off kilter. Judging others puts up walls, while being accepting leads to compassion and empathy. I’m trying to keep those thoughts at the forefront of my mind during the day.

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  3. This is a great question, Jackie. I’ve always believed in this particular thought, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” – If you adopt this theory, then yes, people are doing the best that they can given their backstories, circumstances and emotional state.

    However, I think it doesn’t necessarily mean that in some instances, people try to game the system, whether it’s at work or in their personal lives, as a way to manipulate emotions/reactions in their favor. Make sense?

    This is a complicated query, one that requires excavation of individual situations.

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    1. Oh, It is a complicated question, Rudri. I’ve found myself turning it over and over in my mind since I read Rising Strong. I like that your mantra is to “be kind.” Brene Brown’s husband says that his life is better when he assumes people are doing the best they can. And I can see how that would be true.


    1. Isn’t that the truth of it all, Peg? In fact, after the incident that Brene Brown described which led to this question, she says she started to get angry with herself. Why hadn’t she spoken up with her hotel roommate? Why didn’t she ask for what she needed? Why did she just stew in quiet resentment?
      Her answer? She was just doing the best she could. 🙂


  4. That’s actually a really hard question. Most times, it makes to assume yes, that people are not going out of their way to “offend you” and are truly doing the best they can. But I’m never quite sure what to do in the case when you have the hunch you’re being taken advantage of . . . that maybe the impossible person on the other end of that relationship could be doing better. I don’t know!


    1. I had been thinking along those same lines when I came across Brene’s section about compassion in Rising Strong. She says her research shows that the most compassionate people also have the most well-defined and well-respected boundaries. “They assume that other people are doing the best they can, but they also ask for what they need…They’re compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment.” That was an eye-opener for me!


  5. My best friend and I were talking about this very recently. She said for some people, just getting through the day is hard. Even if they’re not going through anything “difficult.” Really made me see things differently.

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    1. Absolutely! And I realized, from reading this book, that the question ultimately reflects back on me. If I think people are not doing the best they can, then I am judging them to my standards, and I end up being disappointed because other people aren’t doing their “best.” Maybe it sounds a bit selfish, but my life is better when I think other people are trying their best.

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  6. Oh, I’ve been curious about this book! Your question really stopped me in my tracks this morning. I had to seriously think about it. My first thought was that I’m not sure if people always do the best they can. Or even if I do. But then I thought about why a person might not be doing better, and it occurred to me they might be having some difficulty at the moment. And that kinda means they might be doing the best they can right then, doesn’t it?
    The comments this post has evoked are so interesting. It’s true that adversity shows our true colors like nothing else. Difficulty is a character-builder (and exposer).
    Gotta grab a copy of this one next time I’m at the library!

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    1. There is so much gray area to this question! I’ve been grappling with the nuances for a week or more. The more I dig into it, the deeper I go into the rabbit hole. 🙂

      It does give me pause to think that I have no idea what someone might be going through that day. If I knew the details, I would probably be inclined to give that person the benefit of the doubt. So why not start from there?


    1. One of my first reactions to reading this question in Brene Brown’s book was wondering how my characters would answer it. They have provided some interesting responses. 🙂

      I think the question reveals how characters views the world and defines how they see their place in it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. What’s interesting is the underlying assumption of the writer: are we basically optimistic about human nature or are we more pessimistic? I also wonder if we can objectively assess our characters without interjecting our own personal point of view. I suspect we can’t and we shouldn’t–because isn’t our writing a reflection of our personalities, and point of view?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. The writer’s outlook plays a big role in the tone of the novel. I think it would be difficult to divorce ourselves from the story completely, or even determine the degree to which we’ve been able to do that. It is a product of our creativity, after all.
        I love these discussions! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    1. This question gave me the opportunity to think about a situation from another point of view. It has been helping me to remain calm and empathetic, even in trying moments. Thanks for stopping by.


  7. So late to this provocative party but wanted to share an experience I had. I’ve often struggled with heavy or cumbersome groceries, but it wasn’t until I went to the store on crutches (with a broken foot) that people came out of the woodwork to smile and offer help. I was so grateful. And then the first time I went back to the store sans crutches, again, no helpers, even though I was still limping a bit and struggling to walk the whole store without pain or fatigue. I wished I still had my crutch to “signal” my disability. And that got me thinking about all of the invisible struggles going on around us, those we can’t see. I wondered what it might be like if we all wore tags that said “short of breath” or “just lost my wife” or “can’t find a job.” Might we all be more helpful, or would it just be overwhelming?

    By the way, love what you’ve done with your blog, Jackie!


    1. So nice to see you here, Karen! Thank you for sharing that experience. It is the perfect example for this discussion.
      Are you familiar with the site Humans of New York? Clicking on the photos and reading short descriptions of the people drives home your point — we often don’t know what the person next to us is enduring. If we can give people the benefit of the doubt, we’re usually the better for it.


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