Flash in the Pan
A Quarterly Posting at Tiny Lights
Our Past Is Made Up Of All Our Best Efforts
by Judy Guarnera
"He meant well," said a friend defending the behavior of an acquaintance. I was instantly irritated. How could she excuse his dreadful behavior? Next she would say, "He did the best that he could."
It aggravates me when we excuse poor behavior. Some behaviors should not be tolerated! Doesn't tolerance beget more of the same insufferable behavior?
But then I remembered. After 30 years of marriage, my husband and I began a painful divorce. I needed an outlet, so I joined a divorce support group. At a meeting, a speaker discussed the importance of forgiving our spouses and ourselves for the demise of our relationships. She stated that each of us had done the best we could in our marriage. That seemed easy to accept for ourselves. The dilemma came when we tried to apply that axiom to an ex-spouse.
The speaker suggested that individuals go through a grieving process for the "loss of a dream." Getting on with life becomes difficult if they can't forgive former partners and/or themselves. In spite of the anger and disappointment I was feeling, the idea that both my ex-husband and I had done the best we could appealed to me.
Two friends whose husbands had abused their children were outraged when they discovered the abuse and angry with themselves for not recognizing what had happened. They refused to label such heinous offenses as "the best."
To them, accepting that behavior meant they approved of the behavior. The speaker pointed out that it was important to separate the past from the future. The horrible and painful past behavior, though it was the best those individuals could do at that time, was not an excuse for future behavior. Abusive behavior is criminal and should be reported. Labeling behavior as criminal does not preclude simultaneously labeling it "the best that the person had been able to do."
Sometimes my self-talk is negative—"I can't believe I did that; I should have known better." At times I wish I could backspace, as I do on my computer, and just delete certain behaviors. When I tell myself that "I did the best I could," I don't see it as an excuse for my behavior, but rather an acknowledgement that, flawed as my actions might have been, it was my best for that moment.
Such thinking gives me the courage to evaluate my actions and to plan how I might act or respond differently in the future. I am able to visualize a door opening to a better future.
As we grow older, our past is full of events and people who have enriched our lives or caused us unhappiness. It is also made up of our own actions and behaviors, some of which brought joy and others that brought sadness. I don't want to squander the time left to me, regretting or resenting people or myself for past behavior. Knowing it was the best that they and I could do, is a powerfully freeing belief.
In her retirement Judythe Guarnera volunteers as a mediator and Senior Peer Counselor, and enjoys free lance writing. Since words and communication are key to her existence, she writes to get others to think and to persuade them of her beliefs.
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