Monday, May 23, 2016


Is everyone doing the best they can? It's easy to come up with arguments for both "yes" and "no."

Which one is right? If I have good arguments for both, it's probably because neither one is true. Maybe people only sometimes do the best they can? Or maybe they're always doing reasonably well?

I think the answer is actually more interesting. People are always doing the best they can, in a meaningful sense -- but that doesn't mean we need to behave as though they were. It's possible to hold both in mind at the same time: people only ever do the one thing they are able to do in a given moment with all of its constraints, but that doesn't mean that they're not capable of more.

I was reminded of this after seeing a sign I liked that went something like: "be kind to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise." Contrast that to another favorite quote of mine: "be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle."

Could it be that everyone is simultaneously an angel or buddha, and also deserving your utmost kindness? That they're perfectly capable of handling their own suffering, but that paradoxically this doesn't reduce your responsibility one bit?

If you need to save everyone, you end up with conceit, guilt, pity. If nobody needs your help, you fall into apathy. The solution isn't as simple as only some people needing your help.

Everybody does, and nobody does.

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