The Good, the Bad and the Ugly


Some people would describe me as an idealist – I do operate from the basic assumption that people generally act in good faith, and do the best they can. Mostly that assumption is verified, or often enough that at the age of 42, I see no reason to change.

The flip side of this way of operating is that when the inevitable does happen, and it becomes apparent that someone – or something – is not acting in good faith or telling the truth, I get disillusioned and disappointed, and it’s hard to come back from. If it’s a person, my first instinct is to cut them out – I’ve got no room in my life for people like that.

This is not a recommendation of right action by the way, just an honest description of how I feel when someone or something doesn’t meet my expectations. An ongoing challenge is to keep my standards high but my expectations low – if someone doesn’t behave the way I expect them to behave, then whose problem is it? Why should someone act the way I think they should? How do I know that if had their lived experience, that I wouldn’t act in exactly the same way?

Yah, I know – it’s a hard one, and definitely a work in progress.

Recently, I have had some insights into the underbelly of some people and situations. At first I was shocked, then sickened, then mad, then depressed. I wanted out. I felt contaminated by the lack of integrity shown by the people involved, and I wondered if everything they touched was now soiled, including me.

But here’s the more complicated work of being an adult: the colour of truth is grey. Someone or something can be both worthy of admiration and respect, and the complete opposite.

Nobel Physicist Frank Wilczek describes the concept of complementarity as two things that are true, but hard to hold at the same time – a deep truth where its opposite is also true. Each has its own validity and may conflict if you try to apply them at the same time; so fine, appreciate them both and apply each truth separately. 

For example, we are made up of particles of light AND we are thinking feeling human beings. Both are equally true and valid, but hard to apply at the same time. Light itself is both particles and waves – both are true, but not at the same time.

In many ways, to write something or someone off because they behaved in a way that may contradict or not meet your expectations is to lack an understanding of complexity, or my new favourite word, complementarity. It’s crucial to bend our minds around this complexity:

Crucial, because we all have our own darkness, our bad manners, poor choices and ignorant behaviour; for which we hope we are not judged solely by. 


Most people deserve the benefit of the doubt, which brings me back to my basic assumption that most people are doing the best that they can with what they have. If we can give people space to evolve, learn from their mistakes, atone and just be interesting and complex human beings, then it also allows us the space to do the same.

7 comments

  1. Words I needed to read and will further hold in my consciousness. Exactly as you have described, I struggle with this all the time. I think I’m better at it than I used to be, but I am still a work in progress, and thus, as you have said–f—-d up myself at times. Generally I trust people until they show me a reason I shouldn’t, and then I am cautious. As Maya Angelou said ‘When people show you who they are, believe them the first time’. And as I say ‘believe them, but don’t disown them unless they show you good cause.’ xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes Ardys, exactly! A friend just sent me a personal message with her response to this post, and I quoted those exact words from Ms Angelou to her. It’s a real tension, and like you said, it’s a struggle, but what are our options? We can’t just withdraw from all people and situations who don’t behave like we expect. We have to fight the good fight from inside, and to do that, we need to accept our deeply flawed institutions and fellow humans – and ourselves. And yes, reserve the right to disown if necessary.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thoughtful and thought instilling post. The premise “most people are doing the best that they can with what they have” which I became aware of many years ago when I did some counselling studies changed my life. It allowed me valuable perspective that allowed me to move forward in my life, resist the temptation to judge or blame, live in the present moment. A captive audience of family, friends, acquaintances, colleagues, life in general… we can’t help but become better practised at navigating human situations. How good we get at is depends on the work we are willing to do. A lot of which comes down to what we are willing to acknowledge about ourselves and others, and how. Once we are willing to do that we can deal with attitudes and behaviours incrementally without personal judgment of them or ourselves. It takes a lot of energy to cut someone or something so where it feels appropriate to take some action the alternative to disconnecting is designating a corresponding position within our energetic space and in some cases physical, setting a respectful distance that keeps us safe.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes so true Dale. I don’t remember exactly when I came across the idea that people are doing the best they can with what they have, but I remember how much more space it generated in my interactions with people.
      I have circles of people – my inner circle, and then receding in terms of affection and trust. People move about in the circles, and I will move some people out if I lose trust in them. It’s often not possible to disconnect with someone totally, given we often either live n the same community, dwell in the same family or have friends in common, but they definitely do not have to be in the inner circles.

      Like

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