At the end of last week's episode of Grow or Die, I referenced a story from Brene Brown that I love: she asked her husband if he truly believed that people are doing the best that they can. And he very thoughtfully answered that, while he didn't know if people were, he knew his life was better when he chose to believe they were.
I love this story for two really big reasons:
Since recalling this story with Lawrence last week, I've been watching for the wildly varying signs of this. Seeing someone make the choice to believe can sometimes be alarming (e.g. Watching a deeply religious person discount scientific evidence in favor of religious doctrine.), and it can sometimes be inspiring (e.g. Watching outgunned and outnumbered Ukrainians refuse to yield to Putin's slaughter.).
And in all cases, I find myself coming back to the same basic question: what makes someone choose belief or not, given different circumstances?
The answer continually feels pretty simple to me: when the alternative is too painful to entertain.
That's an inherently 'negative' answer (in the mathematical sense of the word, not the qualitative), which I normally don't like, but it begs another one: what constitutes a "painful alternative" to belief?
And here we get to the heart of coaching: if I had to venture a guess, I'd say that for most of us, things that are actively PAINFUL alternatives are things that run counter to our most basic values or which stoke our deepest fears.
Over the past couple of weeks, as I've been heartbroken over what has been happening in Ukraine, we have seen American legislatures pass some truly terrible, cruel laws adversely affecting trans and gay populations, and voters of color. And while I never rule out a politicians self-serving opportunism in stoking the fears and anxieties of voters, the question that constantly surfaces is, "But why does it work so well?"
I think this is the heart of the reason. Most people don't stop to really dig into why something bothers them, or why they find Option A morally superior to Option B. But until we do that, we can't ever get clear on something that ultimate defines each of our lives: are we living a life ruled by fear or by compassion?
For as much as many of us have demons that drive us to act out of fear, I think most of us find inspiration and meaning in compassion. It's a privilege to live in a time and place to have that choice, to be sure. But I think that's what we see when we watch President Zelensky stand up to his would-be assassins and tell the world, "I am here. We will not stand down." It's a rather David-and-Goliath-esque willingness to make the choice to believe.
Because the alternative is simply too damn painful to entertain.