Freedom means choosing your burden. ~ Hephzibah Menuhin
Recently I overheard someone say that they would have been more tolerant of another person's failure to deliver on work commitments and general lack of zazz if she had realized what that person was going through in his personal life. It happens that the zazz-less person is caring for a loved one with a debilitating chronic illness and working full time in addition because that is what most of us have to do when disease strikes our families. It happens that the complainer somehow managed in her own mind to make her guilt the wronged person's responsibility. The implication was that in order to be generous, one must know details. "I wish I had known that," she said.
And I said nothing, because what I wanted to say was inappropriate for my relationship with this woman. What I wanted to say was, "I think you'd save yourself a lot of negative energy if you just assume that the people you encounter are doing the best they can, that they are likely facing difficulties that you cannot be aware of, that their failure to do what you wish they would do is more your issue than theirs. And I think you might want to consider offering to help before you threaten to tattle."
It reminded me that not everyone walks around believing that we should all practice giving the benefit of the doubt to those we encounter. I hear the hard anger in the voices of those who judge and I think, "have you really never been in a position that you needed the grace of another?" Or, worse, "is it so easy for you to forget those who have helped you in your time of need?" Here is the thing, none of us, despite our confidence that we do, really know what the people you encounter are living with on the day, the hour, that you encounter them. You can't know the pain they are in, what burdens they are carrying, what their worries are. It's too much to know, you see. We can barely, it seems, remember one another's names. And so you have a choice--will you assume the best, until that person demonstrates otherwise? When they screw up, will you force yourself not to assign intent ("he wanted to see this fail") unless that is the only possible reason? Choosing this may mean that you have to carry more of the workload on a project, may have to pay more than your share, cover the bill in any one of a thousand ways. I, personally, choose to do that. I'd rather err on the side of being taken advantage of occasionally than fail to help when my help might make a significant difference, when the fact that I've helped might remind the person I'm helping that they are not alone.
And then, when someone does reveal themselves to be taking advantage of your grace, holding them accountable will be as natural and fair as breathing.
Today I did not dance with my troupe when we performed at Boise's Goddessfest because I was feeling unprepared, and feeling too wrung out to dance in joy. I spent some time recharging this weekend. I watched my dance sisters and felt pride in what they do, what we do. I felt warmed by this group of women who come from every corner of our city with backgrounds as varied as you can imagine. We talk about costumes, we compare notes about a million things in our lives. And we dance. As I sat in the warm sunshine today, watching my troupe sisters dancing the familiar choreography of our routine, I was so proud of them all. It will be a long while before I miss another performance. It will be easier than it has been in a long while to make time for practice, in my schedule and in my busy-busy brain. Sometimes it takes stepping out of your place in line and observing how beautiful the thing is that you are a part of to understand how you fit, how important this thing you've built with other people is. And for me, it was quite something to have not one of my dance sisters complain about my failure to "suit up" in sequined dance pants and glittery make-up--despite the fact that they had to change the choreography at the last minute. They knew that even though there is no visible blood on my person, no obvious signs to show how wrung out I feel, I needed the break. So they covered my absence with grace.
When I was caring for my terminally ill husband in home hospice, my then-boss let me work from home almost exclusively for a few months. It was mutually beneficial--I had a skillset that was needed, I could work remotely without impacting my teams, I needed the paycheck and benefits and there were times when work gave me something else to think about. When I returned to work after he passed away, the man who sat in the cubicle next to me made a cutting comment about my extended absence. He had not, it seems, been in the loop on the details of where I had been or why. So I told him. If you know me, you know that I am not a person who yells--and I did not raise my voice. But I was perfectly, utterly, excruciatingly clear about the reasons I'd been allowed to work from home. He looked pretty ashamed of himself when I was only 20% of the way through the explanation. I did it because I wanted him to realize something important, and because he was a man in his mid-30's who had worked beside me for years, and he should have known better than to assume the worst. He was, most of us are, better than that.
Let's all try to be better than that. Be the person who is better than that, and recognize the people in your life who are better than that. It costs so little.
Best to all who happen this way.