Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Best I Could?

I was at my girlfriend's house, sitting around the kitchen table with a mutual friend a couple of years ago. We were enjoying some wine and cheese, and time out of our lives. I don't remember what we were talking about, or how the subject came up, but one of them said something along the lines of, "Well, she did the best she could." I have always considered that line to be a lame excuse at best, and a cop out at worst, so I proceeded to make my opinion known, in no uncertain terms. I did a pretty good job of putting a pall on the entire evening. My diatribe was perceived as an attack, and was viewed as inappropriate...out of proportion with the topic at hand, and all about me.

I thought I had reconciled myself to a kinder approach to "The Best I Could," but now I am not so sure. It seems to me one can say they did their best, but still have the effort fall far short of satisfactory. It also seems to me, on the few occasions I have allowed those words to come out of my mouth, if I really thought about it, I could have done better. I could have taken more time. Been more patient. Used a kinder tone of voice. Chosen better words. Put forth more effort. Paid more attention.

This applies to personal interactions as well as assigned tasks. Then the question becomes was it the best that could have been done at that time in space with what was available? Is one's seemingly best effort assailable only in retrospect? Do we, when in the middle of something, stop and ask ourselves is this the best I can do, then make any necessary adjustments? I know that I very often do not have the presence of mind to stop mid stream for such introspection, and adjust accordingly. So, no, I didn't do the best I could do.

Such a claim is made as a defensive posture, an attempt to deflect the slings and arrows of criticism, or to deny responsibility. What response can be made to such a statement that isn't a direct attack on the claimant's integrity? Conversely, what hope does anyone have of ascertaining necessary answers to major questions when such a defense is mounted?

We may set the intention every day to do the best we can do. But, I believe in our rush to get though tasks large and small, we gloss over the details. We forget to slow down and pay the proper attention, or be present enough to evaluate our efforts as we are putting them forward. We then bristle at being called out on our shortcomings and play the 'best I could' card.

So. I didn't do the best I could have done. I didn't listen well enough. I put forth far less effort than I was capable of. I was rushed. I reacted before I thought or felt. I was closed off and unavailable for any number of reasons, both real and perceived. I am aware of it. I will not offer excuses. I will not take refuge in something that leaves me feeling dishonest and you feeling unsatisfied. I am learning, however, how do do better. To come closer to my best. To better align my best with the ideal best that can be done in life. It is pride that makes us proffer the shield of 'I did the best I could.' It takes humility and courage to come to terms with the fact that your best just wasn't good enough.



Nick said...

I think that's being a wee bit harsh. If I say "I did the best I could" it doesn't mean I'm unaware I could have done better or unaware I wasn't putting enough effort in. It just means I did what I could in the circumstances, even though I wasn't on top of things and there were unexpected problems. With the best will in the world, we can't be perfect all the time!

Maria said...

To be honest, I rarely have done the best that I could have done even when I said I did. And lots of times, I have used it when I simply was too tired to do any more.

The World According To Me said...

Hmm. You've raised some good points here.
Sometimes I can honestly say I have done my best. But you are right, sometimes it's easier to say we've done the best we could, rather than face up to the harsh truth that we could have tried harder, and we could have received a far better result.

Kate said...

A lot of what you find objectionable about "the best I could" is kind of context-dependant, though, don't you think? Let's say...ummm...we take on the task of comforting a person in terrible pain. In that case there's no hope of a truly successful outcome - there's only doing our best.But the tone we use in the two situations is totally different.

SOUL: said...

long time no see R--

when are you gonna write your book? i'd buy it in a heartbeat ya know. this is a great post...
hope things are well for you-

suesun said...

I think we also use this phrase in order to forgive our parents for things we really do need to forgive them for. In this situation, it works.

It's always good to try and be better, but don't be too hard on yourself, k?