The Best I Can Do

I was taught something that I don’t agree with: that all individuals are always doing the best they can in their situations. I was also taught that when people make mistakes, they make them out of ignorance.

I was taught these “facts” at a 6-week training academy through New York State’s Office of Children and Family Services as a condition of employment at a state-run juvenile correctional facility.

When I decide to eat cereal instead of eggs for breakfast, am I doing the best I can? No. When I play a video game for three hours instead of exercising, am I doing the best I can? No. When I punch my friend in the face for pushing me, am I doing the best I can? No. When I vandalise property with my friends, am I doing the best I can? No. When I steal $100 from a drug dealer, am I doing the best I can? No. When I choose to drink underage, am I doing the
best I can? No. There is always a choice, there is always the awareness of the options, and there is always a conscious judgment I make as to which option is most desirable at the moment. It is the root of that judgment which reflects our character (either positively or negatively).

I am not saying that one’s judgment is not influenced to some extent by their environment. Rather, I am saying that regardless of environment, the individual always has the capability of making the right decision. Even if I have a gun to my head and the gunman tells me to renounce Jesus, I am not doing the best I can if I renounced Him. I can choose not to renounce Him even if it means death.

Is that extreme? Yes. Is it difficult? Yes. Is it simple? Yes. Is it true? Yes.

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3 Comments

  1. I agree with you that there is always a choice, and that often the choice may be difficult while still being simple, but I think there is more that goes into the process of influence and socialization.

    I certainly don’t believe every bad choice or mistake is made out of ignorance, but I think some are. After the fact people might say “I knew better than to do that,” and that shows they weren’t acting in ignorance. There are other cases though that I would say it is possible that a person is acting in ignorance, or at least in a state of poor socialization, meaning they never learned a more appropriate way to behave. Do they still have the opportunity to choose wisely? Of course, but they might not have the consciousness needed to do it.

    Obviously not all people are doing the best they can in their situation, but sometimes I think people do the best they can with what they have. But I think that can also be used as an excuse or rationalization as well. These ways of thinking can be used to manipulate people or the system.

    Have you ever read the book “Last Chance in Texas” by John Hubner? Hubner sat in on a State school for adjudicated youth in Texas, the themes you are writing about here show up in that book. I liked the book.

    I’m all for personal responsibility and taking command of your own life, but I do think there are some influences that make that more difficult that it needs to be sometimes. Factor in the negative consequences of some actions (ie addiction) and it becomes even harder to do the right thing, or the best thing. But that isn’t ignorance, that is consequence.

    I like discussing these sorts of topics.

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    1. You bring up a valid point regarding poor socialization. It is often the case that adjudicated youth (or even antisocial youth) have not had the same opportunities to learn pro social attitudes and behaviors as individuals without antisocial tendencies. Such people may very well know that they are falling outside of what society calls acceptable social behavior, but they do not feel obligated to society since since their immediate environment provides little to no incentive to act pro socially. This does not mean that they can’t do better. This does not mean that they are doing the best they can.

      As you said, some may very well be doing the best they can, some may be acting out of ignorance, and others may be intentionally doing the “worst” they can. I just don’t believe that all people at all times are doing the best they can.

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      1. I think I understand better what you are saying. Regardless of the sub- or counter-culture they are fitting in with, people who violate the rules of society at large are not doing the best that they, as humans, have the capacity to do. Is that what you are saying?

        To take it back to the start of the post, I do agree with your disagreement with those two sayings you hear. I got off on a tangent. I think people say those things because it excuses behavior and makes a person the victim of circumstances, thereby removing all responsibility. As damaging as that way of thinking is it does seem to be prevalent in society these days. Working in juvenile corrections you must see that every day.

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