Unlocking the truth about people that I have the hardest time getting through my heart

I ended and started the year with Brene Brown. How else? I am a BB junkie, ok?! The last podcast of 2022 and the first one of 2023 reminded me of one of the conclusions Dr. Brown reached through her research that first made me want to throw her work across the room – a clear sign, she says, that what you are reading / listening to is the truth or has hit a chord. I would say both in my case.

At the end of 2022 Brene Brown, in a two part conversation with her sister, Ashley Brown-Ruiz, reads an excerpt or Rising Strong, one in which she talks about how she understood that people are always doing the best they can with what they have. All the people. All the time. Yes, I know!!!

The first time I read this in the book, I simply discounted it. It cannot possibly be true. People could do so much better, all the time. Also, I could count on many many fingers the amount of people around me who are just jerks. And then Brene Brown threw the punch:

 “I asked these clergy to think of… They’re all deacons, actually. To think of someone they find themselves judging and holding resentment toward and to write that person’s name on a piece of paper. Then I asked them to pretend with me for a minute. What if you had it on the highest authority that the person whose name you wrote down is doing the very best they can do? There was immediate resistance. “I don’t believe it. Who’s the authority? Who said they’re doing the best they could?” Because these were clergy, it was really easy. I said, “God says directly to you they’re doing the best they can.” One woman immediately burst into tears. She and her husband were sitting next to each other. Both were deacons and without conferring, they had written down the same person’s name. I asked her if she felt like sharing what she was feeling with the group.

James, the person they both referenced, was a man with six young children who lived in a trailer in the desert. Both he and his wife had long addiction histories and children’s services had been in and out of their lives for years. The clergy brought James and his family food, diapers and baby formula on a regular basis, and they were convinced and had a lot of evidence that he sold the goods for drinking money, at least as often as he used them for his family. In a shaky voice, she said, “If God told me that James was doing the best he can, I would do one of two things. I would continue to bring him what I could when I could and withhold judgment, or I would decide that giving anything directly to James is not something I can continue to do. Either way, I would stop being so angry, stop judging and stop waiting for something different to happen.” Her husband slid his arm around her, fighting back his own tears. He looked at the group and said, “We’re just so tired. We’re so tired of being angry and feeling taken for granted.” 

Rising Strong, Brene Brown

I was only able to understand and agree to make this belief my own at the beginning of 2023 when I remembered the Living BIG framework Brene and Ashley talk about: B – boundaries, I – integrity, G – generosity. While we always make generous assumptions about people everywhere, we work hard to uphold our boundaries and stay within our integrity. Yes, people are doing the very best that they can, each moment of their lives. Sometimes that means that we have to accept that things won’t get any better, sometimes that brings on a lot of grief. What it doesn’t mean is that we need to become doormats to abuse. This is where boundaries come in.

The last part of the show Unlocking Us (which they ended this week, unfortunately) was a lesson that, should we be able to take on, will change the world, one person at the time. I am pasting from the transcript below. Infuriating and so true at the very same time. Much like life.

“It will be a good final story, but having given up gossiping for Lent one year, I realized that I had very few friends […] that I had really meaningful relationships with. Mostly I just talked shit about other people, while driving away in my car with the no-bullying, teaching our kids not to talk bad about people while we stood around at school and talked bad about people at drop-off. And so, I gave up gossiping for Lent. I was like, “Shit, this is hard.” I’m just not talking bad about people, talking to people instead of talking bad about them. So when Christmas rolled around, I always had a holiday party, and it was a late afternoon holiday party, and invited kids right after school pick up, and invited parents. And there was a woman who, in our neighborhood at different things, at like those parties that you auction off or fundraisers and at book club, had a reputation for drinking a ton, passing out sometimes.

And the year before, she had gotten really drunk at my house. And it scared me, and it scared the kids. The kids had never seen anyone like that before. And sober 26 years, at the time I was probably sober 15, or maybe less than that, because this was a long time ago. I mean, Ellen maybe was in fourth grade or third grade. And I remember, “What am I going to do?” Because the way that most people dealt with that is they talked about her to other people, you know? And I talked to her one day after school … […]

And so I just said, “Hey, I really hope you all come to the Christmas party this year. Can’t wait. I’m going to have to ask you if you come this year to not drink.” And she kind of laughed a little bit and said, “Oh, I got a little tipsy last time.” And she said, “I’ll take it easy.” And I said, “I’m not asking you to take it easy. I hope you come, and I hope the kids come. But I’m going to have to ask you not to drink.” And she said, “Are you saying that I can’t have a drop of alcohol at your house during the Christmas party?” And I said, ‘That’s exactly what I’m asking.” And she said, “I wouldn’t come to your party, if it was the last fucking Christmas party on earth.” And I said, “Well, I’m sad to hear that, but I understand, it’s your choice.” And she left, and I started crying. And I was like really confused about if I’d done the right thing or not. But then the more I thought about it, I thought, what were my options, to cancel the party, to subject my kids and myself to something that’s really scary for me?

Or to do what most other people did, was say nothing to her but talk about her. And that’s out of my integrity. And so that was not easy. So, I want people listening to think, oh, generous, generous. No, the boundaries part is hard as hell.

And I think the way we do boundaries is so great, which is, “Here’s what’s okay and here’s what’s not okay.”

“I hope you come, but I’m going to have to ask you not to drink.” “I love that you’re invested in my kids and how they’re doing. I’m going to have to ask you not to criticize my parenting.”

It’s very much “I want to help. I’m not able to do that. Here’s what I can do right now. This is not a good time for me to volunteer, but I appreciate you asking, and please ask again.” You know what I’m saying?

Because really the only thing we do in lieu of boundaries is anger, resentment, and gossip. That stuff is very slippery if you’re in recovery. All right, y’all. So this is the final sign-off.

Unlocking Us, Living BIG part 2, Brene Brown & Ashley Brown-Ruiz

Photo by Christopher Burns on Unsplash

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