Are We Really All Just Doing Our Best?

A photo of a woman wearing a gas mask standing next to empty shelves in a grocery store.
Photo by Nathan van de Graaf.

When this whole thing began (is it good or bad that I can just say 'when this whole thing began' and be confident that we all know what I'm talking about? Except now I'm a bit nervous that you might not know - "it" is the pandemic. That's obvious, right?) my social media feed was full of sanctimonious shaming directed towards strangers for hoarding toilet paper and hand sanitizer.

I took to my own account to share my own (perhaps equally sanctimonious) thought:

"Dearest friends.
Everybody is doing their best, even those reacting in a way that you wouldn't or doing things you don't understand.
I love you all.

One friend replied that she disagreed. Some people weren't doing their best. Some people were being greedy, opportunistic, and just plain revealing the worst underpinnings of humanity. We had a little back and forth where I conceded that perhaps some people weren't doing their best, but that, just like normal times, most people were.

Since then, though, this has hung in my mind: does doing your best presuppose that you are at least trying to do right by others? Or is some people's best attempt at life going to be selfish, opportunistic, and otherwise nasty?

Usually, we excuse some level of selfish or even damaging behaviour with an understanding that our pain, stress, trauma, and other issues sometimes make it hard for us to see the harm we are causing others.

But how far does that go?

What if someone's issues or upbringing makes them see all of life as a competition and has shown them that they must seize opportunities and always make sure they are on top because if they aren't on top they are on the bottom?

What if life has taught them that if they are not the one taking advantage of others, others will take advantage of them, so they'd better strike first?

What if this person also happens to live in a deeply-entrenched capitalist system where people are generally rewarded for purchasing items as cheaply as they can and reselling them at whatever price the market will bear?

When this person seizes the opportunity to take care of their family and "not lose" by buying hand sanitizer in bulk and reselling it for $50 during a global pandemic, has their selfishness pushed them past the point of our compassionate understanding?

Or are they still doing their best?

If so, is their best just not good enough?

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