In the middle of another maddening session with a family cohort, it hit me. While scolding him for his complete lack of urgency and irresponsibility, my lips became heavy, perhaps weighed down by a brain realizing that words were no good. It must have hit him too because the pause in the conversation became pregnant.

Becoming uncomfortable with the silence, and driven by the fiery of another excuse, I started to speak again. But before opening my mouth to utter another critiquing word, it hit me:

People generally do the best they can.

Some would call this a “coddling” or “apologist ” thought. But there are many—yours truly included—who received the business end of this “coddling” at one point in life. In that vein, the dynamics of “why X has it together” and “why Y can’t do right” is not as cut and dry as it seems.

Being hard on loved ones is easy when their foibles and acts of ineptitude become a weekly episode. Everybody has their own cross to bear; however, you let them tell it, the world hates them and conspires for their demise. Self-accountability becomes nonexistent, and seeing them make the same mistake and singing the same sad song becomes commonplace. Thus, the clashes. The temporary fallouts. And in the worse cases, the severance of the relationship.

A close observation of addictive and deviant behavior for most of my life has saddled me with this very conundrum. Why can’t these people see the frustration in the eyes around them? The easy answer to a growing adolescent mind is the moral deficiency card.

“She wants things she shouldn’t want.”

“He needs the church.”

“No restraint.”

“Their parents had the same problem, so that explains it.” And on and on.

The fact that all of those reasons may or may not be true isn’t the issue. Those reasons are too simplistic to explain the variables affecting the life of a “troubled” individual. The greatest trait of any effective communicator is the ability of the communicator to meet and talk to people as they are. Not talking above their head, nor condescendingly, but to their current state. That takes actual understanding of what a person is going through, even if you don’t agree.

But playing the “understanding” card solely can veer into the reductive realm as well. Alone, it’s anemic and doesn’t work to get rid of the problem as much as to explain it. For people experiencing the flotsam and jetsam of folks’ endless mistakes, this won’t cut it.

There isn’t a person sucking air who hasn’t faced extreme disappointment from a person close to them. It also isn’t a stretch to assume that most walking on Earth is confronted with remnants of that disappointment on a consistent basis. Generally, we like to think we’re on the side of “right.” Who actually admits without prodding that “I’m a f—up?”

If life has taught us anything, it’s that, chances are, you are that person that has made somebody’s life difficult at one point. So it becomes a balancing high-wire act: forward progression, take no excuses in our own lives, but patience toward the stunted development in your [insert friend, sister, brother, etc]’s life.

It takes a special (mutant-like) power to roll with people while they struggle, while they take from you in the process, while they repeat mistakes time and time again. Some people aren’t built to be pushed when they need to “do better,” and that doesn’t make them trifling. People generally do the best they can with the information they have.

The oldheads used to tell me: “If you knew better, you’d do better.” The older I get, the more I understand that. Instead of being stressed out because those close to you aren’t living up to expectations they don’t have for themselves, use that energy for bettering yourself.

The biggest impediment to a broken person’s drive for improvement is the perceived judgment from his or her peers. Or put another way, pride. Use their pains to make you stronger. Lower their defenses. And maybe, just maybe, they’ll come with you.

Am I advocating placing yourself in peril to help those who don’t seem to want to help themselves? Of course not. Distance is generally necessary to maintain your positive energy (as well as giving them space to grow). It’s when apathy creeps into the picture that a problem occurs.

Even if you know someone is blowing it, it’s better to accept them as they are. Nobody can be forced to do better and you’ll be better off in the process.

Life has a way of placing us as the recipient of “coddle treatment” at various points. For every trial a person has emerged from, there is another person who shouldered their pain bravely or almost died trying. Everybody has to play their part. When your role comes, you just gotta be ready to step up.

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