When someone doesn’t do what we expect them to do, what we want them to do, what we need them to do, we have to make a key choice.
Do we approach them with understanding, accepting their limits, re-calibrating our expectations of them, giving them the benefit of the doubt, being tolerant and stepping in to clean up whatever mess results?
Do we come come back with demands, holding them to a higher standard, showing our anger or disappointment, expecting them to take responsibility for their failure and up their game, cleaning up their own messes or being cut off?
Neither of these opposing approaches is always, right, of course. Everyday, in every relationship we have with someone, we have to blend these strategies, both demanding people to get on the stick & pull up their own socks, and giving them compassion & understanding, more help & another opportunity to show what they can do.
If we see someone trying to do something for themselves, apparently trying to take responsibility but still struggling, it’s very easy for us to show compassion and pitch in to help.
If we see someone asking for help, apparently trying to shirk responsibility, it’s very easy for us to demand that they take responsibility for their actions or suffer consequences, no matter how dire.
As a transperson, I know that many people see my choices as indulgent, irresponsible or even perverted, deciding that I deserve whatever I get, because, after all, I brought it on myself. They demand I take responsibility in the world for the fears and discomfort of others, often deciding that discrimination, abuse and the effects of stigma are all my own fault.
If I don’t approach other people with understanding that they are who they are and they make the best choices they can in the moment, even if those choices are not the most sensible ones I can see for them, then how can I ask for the same approach from others? If I harshly judge others, am I not asking to be judged, according to the golden rule?
My parents both approached the world with a mindset that today we call Aspergers Syndrome. Their minds worked like their minds worked, brilliantly but without much emotional intelligence. This meant that they both had a very centric view of the world, requiring others to enter their viewpoint rather than entering the views of others.
I knew that I had to accept them as they were, knew that they were trying to do they best they could do in the world. If I didn’t believe that, I never could have tolerated the choices my parents made, or more accurately, the choices they didn’t make for well over half a century. I understood their behaviour in the context of who they were, of how their brain worked, what their capabilities were.
I watch parents on tv shows and they work to understand their kids, work to help their kids, are there for their kids, rather than requiring the kids to take care of them, and I realize I never really had that in my life. If I want people to accept me as I am, don’t I have some obligation to accept them as they are, to not make demands of them that are almost impossible for them to meet?
Now, that doesn’t mean that I didn’t struggle mightily, doesn’t mean my heart wasn’t broken by my parents time and time again. There are enough broken doors in this house, the one I have to let go of, to understand that. And even that letting go is hard, because nobody could get my father to do real planning for his estate. Still hurts, bad.
I know the problems with approaching others with understanding rather than demands, of always having to leave room for transformation and trust again while also being smart about other people’s limits. The result is that I am always at the end of the whip, always expected cleaning up other people’s messes.
That cleanup has shaped my life, has consumed my life, has taken my life. Rather than creating my own place and success in the world, I have learned to clean up after my family. My resources and energy have been consumed with taking care of those who had their own struggles rather than claiming my own possibilities.
My mother would always tell me that she was doing the best she could do. I came to hate that line, “I did my best,” because she used it as an excuse to not come through, to not have to be uncomfortable, to not have to really put blood and sweat into the need for change.
When I was 16, I would tell her “The way you approach me isn’t getting you the results you want. Maybe you need to try another strategy.” I learned, though, that wasn’t going to happen, that she was going to keep doing what was habitual to her, trapped in the limits of her own collapsed vision, because the emotional connection wouldn’t come.
When I see others struggling to do the right thing and still failing, it is easier to have some compassion. They may fail me, but they really are doing the best that they can, and no amount of pressure from me is going to make her heal or grow faster or better.
People heal in their own time, in their own way, and if we could make them heal differently, life would be easier. If we could make ourselves heal faster or better, life would be easier.
It’s easy to know how to approach someone who hurts you out of hate. It’s much harder to know how to approach someone who fails you and causes you pain even though their choices are the best that they can make in the midst of their own struggles, choices made out of love.
Where is that line between real limits and real denial? Do I give people too much slack, or do I just need to take more hits? Not every amateur can be professional, but then again, without demands, we almost never get what we need.
This question is really at the nexus of my hope and my pain. Do I give people the benefit of the doubt, giving them another chance because I know that their intentions are good, or do I call them out on how they cause me pain?
Piers Morgan claims that he is on the side of transpeople, but Janet Mock feels he should be held accountable for sensationalizing her by focusing on her body, not her heart. As people who stand for transformation, we have to give people the space to grow, but as humans, we have to call out even well intentioned people when they hurt us. Hard.
Somewhere, somewhere, though, there is a line where someone’s best really is the best they can do, even with struggling, and you just have to accept that and love them anyway.
How much do I extend compassion and the space for transformation, and how much do I snap, demanding everyone do it the right way or take whatever shit I choose to give them?
I know what the golden rule says. I just also know how scarred my heart is.