A good friend of mine has a pearl of wisdom she wheels out frequently when it is appropriate, and it often is. “Everyone was doing their best at the time” she says. It is a very forgiving statement. Part cautionary, and part empathetic. Everyone was doing their best.
What she means is that even though people might have been capable of doing better (and we all are), because of the situation people found themselves in at the time and their own personal limitations, their actions represented ‘their best’ at that moment.
Her statement is pretty radical. It means that people who even do bad things are acting at that moment at the best they could at the time. Just read any newspaper and see the stories of unethical behaviour, or cast you mind back to the week just gone to think of examples where other people fell short of our expectations.
Some won’t agree with her philosophy. I know I didn’t agree with it when I first heard it from her.
But there is some power in her words. It moves from blaming to acceptance. In writing this post, I am just putting this idea out there. I am not suggesting that it is a perfect philosophy. But it does have it’s merits, and we only have to look to some of our own personal failings to see that it offers a kindness that might not always be deserved.
The 10 City Bridge Run is based on some pretty big ideas. Yes, at the core is child survival, but the big ideas revolve around building bridges and opening conversations. And building bridges and opening conversations first need us to establish some willingness to listen or to find common ground that is worth connecting with.
It would be easier to convene a simple conversation about child survival, and paint the problem in a generic sense with some specific case studies. That might be easier, but it may also fail to acknowledge the context we are dealing with. We are talking about real people in situations different to our own. It is not a simple matter of assigning a better flow of infrastructure, or ways of appropriating medicine and nutrition. There are circumstances that have caused bad situations to emerge, and they must also be acknowledged even if they are beyond our ability to address them. What does ‘everyone was doing their best’ mean for regimes that hold people in poverty because of corruption?
Returning to a personal reflection, I think of the context that my friend once again gave me this advice in response to a question I had asked. Her response was good. Very helpful.
And now as I prepare to leave Glasgow for Toronto for the next leg of the 10 City Bridge Run, the second last leg, I think back to what I have done and not done since 2010 when this idea was first conceived. More often than not, my performance has been imperfect. There were plenty of ways I fell short of my potential. Even reflecting on my time here in Glasgow I think of ways things could have been better. But there is also some comfort in reflecting that at the time, I was doing the best I could based on my own personal limitations.
What is more important now than looking behind is looking to the future as we set our minds to the Design Forum that will unfold in 2015 and ask how this can be meaningful to bring about change that matters. We will learn from the past, and it will stand us in good stead if we suspend our own tendency from being our own best critics.