Cutting Slack, Doing Our Best

In the past year I’ve heard from two friends who were disappointed in me because I didn’t meet their expectations or show up in the ways they wanted me to. In one case the friendship was already fading and I took the opportunity to own up and disengage. The other friend’s accusations were harder to hear and laced with anger, but I tried to have compassion for the fact that she was going through an incredibly difficult time.  I also acknowledged that, even when my actions fall short, I try my best to be there for people I care about, not to mention occasional strangers in need.

But the lessons didn’t stop there. A few days after that upsetting conversation I read a passage from author Wayne Dyer in his daily Everyday Wisdom calendar:

“Instead of judging others as people who ought to be behaving in certain ways, see them as reflecting a part of you, and ask yourself what it is you are ready to learn from them.”

And there it was. These friends were holding up a big ol’ mirror to me, and it reflected something I didn’t want to see, namely, my own tendency to be hard on people when they fail to meet my expectations.

I used to be a champion grudge holder, and I still harbor resentments against a few key players in my life. I’m praying for guidance with those, and always hoping for a shift. The good news is that when new resentments crop up I catch them pretty quickly, recalling the words of author Malachy McCourt, who once said that, “Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”

Indeed. All the energy I expend being judge and jury against my perceived wrongdoers (from that person who never returned my emails, to those who’ve rejected my precious friendship, to the people who didn’t acknowledge my thoughtfulness, value, etc.) is energy I’m taking away from my own life. It keeps me in a very unattractive “victimy” state, too, which is super unpleasant to feel and rarely a source of inspired action.

So here’s a radical thought: What if I imagine that we’re all doing the best we can with what we know?  Walking around with that kind of assumption, I’d certainly cut a lot more people a lot more slack, starting with my husband.

Since arriving in the United States to start a new life with me, my husband has faced innumerable challenges and obstacles, not to mention serious slights and heartbreaks as a proud African immigrant trying to make his way in this culture. Add to these stressors a wife who tends to point out his shortcomings (for his own good, of course), and you’ve got a man who’s often behind the eight ball. One of his favorite mantras is “I’m doing the best I can.”

A few months ago I attended a weekend workshop for women who want to have more satisfying relationships with men. We learned a lot about winning strategies for dealing with the opposite sex from our female instructor, but the most poignant moment came at the end of the workshop, when we heard from a panel of real, live men. The final question to these brave guys was, “If you had a megaphone, what message would you shout for all women to hear?” One answer that pierced my heart came from a white, successful, upper middle class man going through a divorce: “I’m doing the best that I can!”

The demands of this modern culture are squeezing the life out of so many people, and we’re all doing our best to try and keep up. Last year I got all bent out of shape because a girlfriend hadn’t replied to my calls and emails for a while. When she finally did I learned that she’d been privately grappling with a cancer diagnosis. Likewise, I once got testy with a student who showed up chronically late for my classes, only to learn that her husband was coming home chronically late from work to watch the kids—on the one night that my student had to herself. I’m humbled and shaken awake by these kinds of revelations.

Like death and taxes, disappointment in relationships is 100% guaranteed in this life. It’s what we do in response that matters. If we want forgiveness, compassion and understanding, we have to give it. I suggest starting with ourselves, by the way, because most of us are the least forgiving there. And I know that when I cut myself slack for my own human failings, I see others through a kinder, gentler lens.

21 thoughts on “Cutting Slack, Doing Our Best

  1. So true! And so well put. Thanks, Kim. This one really hit home. I’ll be sharing it with many people in my life.

  2. Once again your musings totally resonated with me. I too used to be a champion grudge holder until one day I had an epiphany-do not remember what triggered it- and realized that I was hurting ME by all the anger I generated by the grudge, that the person probably didn’t even know I held a grudge, and I couldn’t change the past. I have really tried to embrace exactly what you are talking about- everyone is trying to do the best they can, assume that when people’s behavior deviates, especially from their norm or an expected norm, there is surely a reason behind it.

    As for men, I have tried to be more open minded especially to my husband who can drive me crazy. But I remember way back when (37 years!) when my mom told me, “If he puts the diaper on backwards, don’t say a word- he PUT IT ON!”

    Thanks Kim, susie

    1. Thanks so much for adding to the dialogue, Susie – yes – I heard Oprah say the other night that the person we’re holding a grudge against “has probably moved on!” So true, in most cases…

      And yes – believing that all bad behavior comes from fear, stress, overwhelm, etc. helps with the forgiveness part – not that we have to keep engaging with toxic behavior, but we can have compassion for the person who’s dishing it out…

      love the diaper story!

  3. Kim, this is so very poignant. It has been my mantra for some time now, not holding grudges….I have found over the years, it only causes bitterness in ME and makes me a person I do not want to offer to another. Forgiveness is not absolving the wrongdoing, it’s letting the power of the hurt not own you. You are a lovely person, you are a wonderful cousin, thank you for sharing such an intimate part of your journey.

  4. So well said, and so easy we forget , we all have feelings and need to remember that, We have friends and family and they know who they are , life is very short.

  5. I can relate to everything you said, and sometimes I feel like my energy is being drained from me so i just want to cut some people out of my life. but that’s too easy. as i think of the book the four agreeements, second chapter: Don’t take it personal it’s not about you. then I’m able to take a deep breathe and feel my shoulders drop down as i relax.I give myself 24hrs to be with whatever has happened, and then show up…as Oprah says, be responsible for the energy you bring into the room. I didn’t say its easy but it works for me when I am able to stay present.

    1. Irene – I love the 24-hour pause – I have learned the hard way to do that. And yes – I love Don Miguel Ruiz’s book and reminder to not take things personally…not easy…worth the effort…

  6. I’m thrilled that is essay is resonating with so many people today…tells me something…wishing us all peace, harmony, and meaningful relationships.

  7. Wow! Timely for me… going through ” a thing” with my mom since my dad’s death. You’ve given me much to mull over. Gracias, mi chica del alma!

  8. Wow Kim! This couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time and thank you for reminding me of these truths which I so easily seem to forget.

  9. hey, kim! … yeah, resentment is like a mobius strip of anger: it’s twisted into three dimensions but it really only has one side and one edge, which i think is disappointment in ourselves maybe? in any case, i like the idea here as well as the related ideas of seeing everyone (and everything) as a child or with the “eyes of God,” i.e. not only with compassion for shortcomings, but with eyes wide-open to the brilliance and miracles they create that only they can create. it’s like pulling back the camera from a greasy, ugly dirty smudge of a fingerprint to see the breath-taking stained glass window it’s on …
    cheers, robert

  10. This is a really lovely message. Told with humor and heart. So true – battling our own expectations not only of ourselves but of others (especially the ones closest to us.)
    -wendy

  11. Well done on expressing the very thing most of us fear about ourselves. Thank you for sharing. With forgiveness of ourselves comes understanding for others. I too struggle with these issues about non responsive emails and calls. Thank you for showing me insight and a solution. All my best – Eric

  12. Hi Kim
    Nicely done.
    You may be interested that in our men’s work within ManKind Project we use the principle of if you spot it you got it. So we always begin a group with a clearing where a man with a charge towards another is facilitated in seeing how this man is a mirror for him. It is quite powerful work, and allows for the man with the charge to then be present to the object of his charge. And most importantly it affords one more opportunity to uncover what I have in shadow.
    Blessings
    Jack

  13. Kim, what a gem! Such depth and courage in your revelations. In each of your blogs, and this one especially, you venture into the murky deep. Exposing just for a bit the darker side of our humaness. Thank you. Mirrors are so difficult to acknowledge. The anguish I usually feel related to disappointments in others is always keenly felt in myself.
    Love to you, Mary

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