ASSUME PEOPLE ARE DOING THE BEST THEY CAN
I recently read Rising Strong by Brene Brown. Amazing book, definitely encourage people to read it. She tells a story about part of her personal journey with how she views people. It was brought on when her therapist asked her if she thought people, in general, were doing the best they can. Her response was no, no way people are doing the best they can. So she began asking other people she encountered the same question and got varied responses. As I was listening (because when I said I read it, I actually meant I listened to it, ain’t nobody got time for reading!) I thought about the people I’ve encountered that I knew there was no way they were doing the best they could, and myself, I know there are definitely times when I am not doing the best I can. But then as her story continued she changed her mind, and so did I. She recounted getting together with a friend and asking the question, knowing that the friend would agree with her about people NOT doing the best they can, which the friend did. The friend then went on with a rant about breastfeeding and how people just are not doing the best they can and if they weren’t up for breastfeeding then they shouldn’t have even gotten pregnant, and if they really loved their kids they would give it their all. This hit Brene really hard, and it hit me really hard as well. Sounds like Brene and I had a very similarly unfortunate experience with breastfeeding and the judgment, whether direct or indirect, at failing at it. My experience was difficult, I didn’t produce well, and baby didn’t latch well, and it hurt, it hurt so bad. It made me go to a very dark place so with my first I started formula very early on, and blessedly was able to continue nursing part time with him. But when people would say things like, oh- you just gotta_____, or keep trying it will come, it made me want to scream, “I’M DOING THE BEST I CAN!!!” And for me that best was making sure he was fed and that primarily came from a bottle of formula.
Then I thought about other times in my life where looking from the outside it probably didn’t look like I was doing my best. My second pregnancy was rough. I was in debilitating pain from 10 weeks on, my energy level was non-existent, those things combined with the hormones put me in a pretty bad depression cycle. My house was a horrible mess, and my son watched way more TV than I ever would have thought possible, and I was doing the absolute best I could in that moment.
Let’s think about others, now of course there are times when they are not doing their best, but put that aside for a minute. You don’t know if they are battling debilitating physical pain, mental illness, a recent crisis, disease, addiction, the list could go on. The lady that yelled on the phone, the student who didn’t get their homework done, the mom down the street that’s always drunk and letting her kids roam the streets- is it possible that they are actually doing the best they can in that moment? Yes, it’s actually possible.
That doesn’t mean that we don’t help them or just let it slide. In the case of a neighbor or someone in your life that is suffering from addiction or putting children in harm’s way, that doesn’t mean that you don’t make phone calls to appropriate resources at appropriate times. That might be what they need to help them bring their best up to an appropriate level. What it does mean is that you approach them differently, from a place of love and compassion rather than from a place of judgment and disdain.
SERVE AND BE SERVED
I have always loved doing service. One of best friends and I started a club in Jr. High whose primary purpose was to support students in Nepal by paying their tuition for school. The club is actually still around almost 2 decades later (that makes me feel really old). To this day when I meet someone from Nepal I have this immediate love for them, which might freak them out, but serving them has made me feel connected to them across the globe.
More recently, as in last year as opposed to almost 20 years ago, I had the opportunity to serve a refugee family recently arrived from Syria. I got connected with a group that arranged for meals to be brought in to families as they arrived. There was not an apartment immediately available, so this family of 8 (the parents and 6 kids) were split between 2 motel rooms, they had limited finances, limited access to transportation, and their English was even more limited than everything else. So I volunteered to bring them a meal. They are Muslim so it needed to be Halal and it happened to be during Ramadan so it needed to be delivered after the sun went down.
This gave me the opportunity to do research on what Halal even meant (for those that don’t know, it’s similar to the Kosher laws that orthodox Jews follow), and to learn more about Islamic customs.
I’ll admit I was a little nervous to go and meet this family. My only impression of Muslim men, especially coming from the Middle East, was unfortunately negative. I pictured someone stern and oppressive, I thought I would need to keep my young son away and quiet as that would be the woman’s duty. I assumed the wife would be quiet and afraid of her husband. I had been programmed with a lot of misinformation, like I discussed in part 2.
My experience was so different from what I imagined. The husband was incredibly welcoming, warm, and kind. He did seem a little surprised when I put out my hand to shake his, but was not upset by the gesture. He loved my son who was not quite 2 at the time. He threw him in the air and tickled him. He let him jump on the bed with their two young daughters.
Despite the very difficult language barriers (even with Google translate), we had a lovely visit with them. They kept offering us food and drinks. I kept refusing until I finally realized how much it would mean to them to serve us, to show some amount of hospitality as they would have done in their former life before war, oppression, and persecution took everything away from them. We finally accepted a glass of coke and they were so happy to give it to us. (Not being a regular caffeine drinker and being around 9 in the evening, I actually didn’t sleep at all that night- but it was totally worth it!)
That act of service, for a group of people I was so misinformed about, changed my heart. It broadened my horizons. It made me look at them as “brothers instead of others.” It helped me develop charity. It started me on a path with Lifting Hands International that has allowed me to continue serving in meaningful ways which lifts the hands of refugees but might lift my heart and my spirit even more.
I have found no better way to develop a bond with others besides selfless service. Try it, in your community, in your family, in your workplace, and in your marriage. Your love will grow for them as well as their love for you. When I have served others that are going through a particularly trying time I feel invested in their trial and in their life. We need to be more invested in the human family.
When I was the ripe old age of 20 I had an arch nemesis. We’ll call her Jesse. See at the time I had started dating a guy, we’ll call him, Jake. We weren’t exclusive, but things were moving in a good direction, slowly, but I just thought that was sweet that he was a slow mover. Jesse moved into our apartment complex the end of January and Jake met her briefly as he was friends with some of her room mates, nothing of consequence. Valentines day was coming up and I was planning all sorts of cute things, like decorating his truck, baking cookies, and making a mushy card. But the week leading up to Valentine’s day he became a little distant, and like I said nothing had been established that we were a couple so I got a weird vibe and decided to just give him a little Valentine like I was giving other friends. I went to deliver it and Jesse was there with him, looking at his computer with him, but not just looking at something together, in the words of While You Were Sleeping, they were “leaning.” I was a little rattled and confused and I think I spent the rest of the evening crying to my room mates. Guys, less than a week later they were officially a couple and a week after that they were ENGAGED. They had known each other less than a month and for two of those weeks he was dating me.
I didn’t like her and couldn’t take them seriously whatsoever. When word got around that her parents were not supportive of the wedding, I was like, gee whiz, can’t imagine why. I avoided her like the plague and anytime she did come up I said her name like it was a dirty word.
Flash forward a few months, I was competing in an event called Dancesport at BYU (don’t get excited, I’m not a good dancer, but I was taking a social dance class and that allows you to compete with other people in the class). Jesse actually was a good dancer, and was in some of the higher level competitions. I ended up getting horribly ill the night before the event but was well enough in the morning to get there and dance in the first round. A friend had driven me up there but I didn’t have a way home besides walking 2 miles which I was not looking forward to at all because I was sick and it was cold. So who should happen to walk up at that time, Jesse. I did not want to talk to her and I certainly did not want to accept any kind of help from her, part of me kind of hoped she was not heading home at that moment. But she was, and she offered me a ride, and the practical side of me beat out the hateful side of me because I was really sick.
That moment, changed so much about my attitude. Humbling myself enough to accept help from her, my arch nemesis, made me see her as a person and realized she actually was kinda cool. We definitely didn’t become best friends, but I did stop saying her name like a dirty word and let go of the resentment I had been holding on to. It allowed me to open my heart up and want good things for them, rather than sitting back and wishing the worst on them. It allowed me to start developing charity for them.
Accepting help can be hard. We’re stubborn and prideful, and there definitely is merit to being self sufficient and independent. But what I said above about feeling invested in the human family, it goes both ways.
In the LDS faith, we believe that when we are baptized we make covenants, or promises, with God, one of them being that we will “bear one another’s burdens, mourn with those that mourn and comfort those that stand in need of comfort.” We like to focus on bearing the burden and giving the comfort, but sometimes we are the ones that have a burden, are mourning, or needing comfort. It’s great to be the one serving, but sometimes you need to be the one being served. You need to allow others the opportunity to be invested in your life, allow them the opportunity to keep their covenants. Don’t be selfish and keep all the warm fuzzy feelings that come from helping someone to yourself. Yes, be self reliant, but also reach out for help when it is needed, it might just help you develop greater charity for others, and let them develop greater charity towards you AND others while they’re at it.
You can’t do everything, you can’t single handedly solve all the problems, and make everyone just get a long. But you can do SOMETHING.
When Christ told us to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, etc., he didn’t prescribe exactly how it had to be done. It could include literally handing someone clothing or food. Have you ever given a homeless person a pair of socks? I cleaned out my husband’s sock drawer and handed clean socks to pan handlers on the street, I got some of the most sincerely grateful looks and smiles I have ever been given. It could also include giving what you can (money, time, goods) to charitable organizations. Don’t have the extra room in the finances, socks in the drawer, or time in the day? A smile and a kind word can go a long way to changing the hearts of everyone involved.
Do something to learn: have a conversation, pick up a book, or at the very least use the Google machine to get more information (from unbiased sources). You don’t have to become an expert, but the more you learn about other groups the more you will love them. Knowledge is power!
If all else fails, if you can’t say something nice, don’t say nuthin at all! Think before you speak or share. Ask yourself if your motivation is love, will it spread love, and will it help others feel loved.
Realize that charity and kindness are action words. It is not enough to sit back and not do hateful things (although by all means if this is the first step you need to take, please sit back and stop doing or saying hateful things). You must ACT, you must do something.
Bringing this full circle, back to post 1, where we defined charity as the pure love of Christ. Christ did not become the embodiment of charity by sitting back and saying he loved us. He developed charity by constantly acting out of love, and ultimately sacrificing his life because of his love for us. If we are to develop anything remotely close to that level of love, we need to look around us and just start by doing something.
What will you do today to break down the barriers?