the generosity hypothesis

My reading circle met today for the fourth Tuesday in a row to discuss Brené Brown’s newest book, Rising Strong. Wowsahs! The chapters we discussed this week covered some seriously heavy themes:

Compassion.     Empathy.     Vulnerability.     Disappointment.     Self-righteousness.          Boundaries.     Shame.     Forgiveness.     Grief.     Heartbreak.     Judgment.     Loss.     Longing.     Sympathy.     Perspective.     Integrity.

The list goes on, but the big whammy for me was the generosity hypothesis she proposed:

What if everyone is actually doing the best they can with the tools they have?

Being an empath and a dedicated yoga student, I’ve wrestled for a long time with trying to wrap my mind around the atrocities of the world. In search of compassion I’ve practiced imagining serial killers and rapists as babes in their mothers’ arms. I’ve pondered experiences that may have led church leaders to sexually abuse. I’ve studied history, culture and norms in an attempt to ask the right questions about what could lead humans to strap explosives to their bodies. I’ve considered the power of addiction and lack of mental health to reconcile why parents would forsake a child and a man the opportunity to work …

I’ve experienced many insights pertaining to those “out there”, but I realized I am lacking the application of this hypothesis when it comes to some of the people closest to me, both those living under the same roof and those living on the same street (but with the other guy’s political sign in their yards).

As with most shortfalls, I’m chalking this one up to the ego. I can practice compassion when it comes to those “out there” (even those that have done some pretty horrendous acts) because they have nothing to do with me, personally.

They haven’t rubbed up against the giant bubble that is the oh-so-sensitive ego.

They haven’t peed on the seat I just sat on, or left toothpaste in the sink I just cleaned. They haven’t ignored my requests for connection or shown up late for family night. They haven’t told me that I’m mean or told my kids that a certain candidate wants to kill babies…

Yet maybe my family and my neighbors are doing the best they can. Maybe it really is crazy difficult to remember to lift the seat because it’s an emergency; maybe toothpaste is the last thing on a mind because that mind is so full of confusion or dismay. Maybe connecting isn’t possible because the skills aren’t accessible at the moment. Maybe pro-lifers aren’t trying to scare children, but rather they are genuinely frightened and feel called to save the lives of others by whatever means possible.

I’m hoping this insight can be a game changer in my parenting, my marriage and my relationship with people who have views that oppose my own. I’m hoping that by asking

What’s the most generous assumption I can make about his/her behavior?

I can continue to feel as light as I do now. I’m hoping that I can remember the generosity hypothesis in the midst of a moment of fierce and visceral judgment of another. I’m hoping I can apply this hypothesis to myself when I’m berating myself for a comment, a behavior or simple laziness.

Hey self, I’m doing the best I can.










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