Monday, September 20, 2010


At the beginning of the academic year, the head of my department conducts a training session for our teaching assistants, senior students who will be working with new students. He tells them that they are likely to review some assignments that are below acceptable standards. He cautions them that although it might look like a student has not made much of an effort, they should assume instead that all students are doing the very best they can.

I wrote last week about my reaction to a difficult evening with my autistic son (Losing My Way). I believed that my son was being deliberately rude and was choosing to disrupt the family dinner celebrating his brother’s birthday. I was frustrated by his unwillingness to accept my efforts to redirect his energy. I was angry. (Yes, I know that an inability to consider other people’s feelings is a classic characteristic of autism. I still thought he was doing it on purpose.)

Then I had a visit with a friend who was, like me, struggling to understand the behavior of a family member. We talked about how hard it is not to judge. Then she sighed and said about her own family member, “Maybe she’s doing the best she can.” I paused and admitted, “And maybe James is doing the best he can.”

Pema Chodron writes, “No one knows what it takes for another person to open the door.” The Native Americans understood about walking a mile in someone else’s moccasins. If I look at James’s behavior and consider the possibility that he is doing the best he can at any given moment, then perhaps I can loosen my grip on my judgment and resentment. Perhaps I can sense a glimmer of compassion.

Perhaps I could even do that with myself. I have had a hard few weeks in terms of my own efforts to be a “kinder, gentler” person. To be wise and serene. To be full of joy. I don’t always like what I see in my dark corners – dust bunnies of the soul. But maybe I am doing the best I can.

Not everything we find is what we want. But if we befriend what is within us and are willing to learn from it, serenity will ultimately reign at the center of our being. –Joyce Rupp

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