Teams talk about demanding the best from their athletes. Companies talk about excellence and enthusiasm from their employees. Spouses want the partnership they agreed to in their wedding vows. Parents want the sort of children that don’t get into trouble. All of those things are achievable. Just not all the time.
First off, the world is three quarters of the way to its 10 billion person maximum, so the rest of us would wonder why any one person would think that it should be their standards we’re all living up to. Of course that person will argue that it’s not their standard, it’s society’s, and they’ll use their friends as examples. Except their friends are their friends because they share similar standards. It’s what everyone knows is right…? Right…?
Two things: What gets defined as the right thing to do will depend on a lot of things, most certainly where a person’s from and how they reacted to their upbringing. Secondly, how anyone behaves will always depend on how they feel at that moment.
Everyone has their worst days. 365 days a year, a 75 year life, that’s 27,375 days. At least 30 of those are going to be horribly agonizing, and about another 1,000 will be pretty awful too. That’s not bad in a full lifetime. Despite some long stretches of sad, that’s still way way more happiness than sadness.
The problem starts when things are out of balance–when we’re doing either really badly or we’re doing overly well. Those states lead us to start over-thinking the reasons for each, which means our ego is given almost constant existence. As a result of us thinking too much, our own standards get rigidly imposed on the world. But expecting others to operate at our tightest standards during their toughest times–that’s simply unrealistic. Get two people in that same self-righteous state at the same time and that’s where the worst conflicts happen.
It makes no sense to expect the best from people if we know we all have really bad times where our behaviour is definitely not good. We should fully anticipate that way may meet people during our day that are in the midst of one of their 1,000 worst days. That isn’t a day to add our standards to their list of things to think about. That’s our day to improve the world with our grace; to create the sort of emotional space for that person that we wish existed when we’re in that vulnerable state.
People will be amazing beautiful generous beings without us needing to punish or entice them towards that. We don’t have to worry about making people better, but we can make it easy for them to be at their best. So today, let’s all take the most difficult person we meet, let’s set it as our goal to improve that person’s life at least a little through our behaviour.
Even if they fail to see it, let’s let our actions help enact the very greatest parts of ourselves. That way we most certainly benefit, and whether the person we helped or offered patience to notices or not, they will have too. So think about having a friend or co-worker join you in this endeavour, because these are the simple daily changes that, done en masse, change the world.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.