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.