Ashley Kelly

Are people doing the best they can...most of the time?

Ashley Kelly

One of the books I read last year was Rising Strong by Brene Brown (highly recommended).

In her book, she talks about the difficult emotions that accompany failure and what it takes to get up and keep getting back up after a blow.

I remember having a mind-bending moment when she introduced the concept that people are doing the best they can with the tools they have, most of the time.

I remember putting the book down and staring off into the abyss while I tried to process what I had just read. My immediate response was to resist this fairy-tale BS and come up with four hundred reasons why people are actually the worst. There was just no way that could be true.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who had or has a pessimistic reaction to the idea that people are doing their best most of the time. I mean, all you have to do is turn on the TV and watch the news and you’ll see plenty of examples of people being terrible.

As I sat with the idea and let it permeate my mind, I thought about my reaction and what it said about me.

Am I doing my best most of the time with the tools that I have?

What would the best version of myself behave like? Have I been acting like that person?

After what seemed like hours of thought, I came up with the answer.


Sometimes, I am doing my best. And sometimes circumstance, emotion or impulse get the best of me and only in hindsight can I see exactly what I could have done better in that situation.

My hope for anyone that has ever been hurt or disappointed by a failure on my part is that they could understand and forgive me…or at least empathize with me.

So, based on that and my hope that people would do that for me, the next question I had was:

Why did I immediately turn to the negative and assume that people aren’t doing their best?

How is it fair for me to have the expectation that people will always cast me in a positive light yet I don’t do the same?

Here’s what I came up with.

Assuming the worst in people is a defense mechanism.

To lead with the assumption that people are doing their best means that we have to be open to understanding, forgiveness and empathy…all of which require vulnerability. And being vulnerable is hard. It takes courage.

It’s easier to hold ourselves to a lesser standard so we can avoid the pain of getting hurt or seeing the parts of ourselves we don’t like in other people.

It takes effort to rise above that and will take consistent effort to challenge and change our assumptions about other people.

“My life is better when I assume that other people are doing their best. It keeps me out of judgment and lets me focus on what is, and not what should or could be.” Brene Brown.

Sometimes, when other people give their best, it might be hurtful, energy sucking and painful. I’m not saying you have to tolerate abuse, but holding the idea that people are doing the best they can might help open your mind to understanding their behavior and give you the courage to be forgiving and empathetic.

At the end of the day, we're all just trying to figure things out.

We’re all trying to make sense of our lives.

I want to believe that people are doing the best they can with the tools that they have. I think believing that pushes us to be better people. It pushes us to hold ourselves to a higher standard, even when others around us don’t or can’t.

What do you think?

Do you think people are doing the best they can with what they have?