​​See What Sticks: Do Your Best, Trust Others Are Too

“Men and women who rise strong are willing and able to rumble with their stories. By rumble, I mean they get honest about the stories they’ve made up about their struggles and they are willing to revisit, challenge, and reality-check these narratives as they dig into topics such as boundaries, shame, blame, resentment, heartbreak, generosity, and forgiveness.” 
-Brené Brown, Rising Strong

Brené Brown is a tremendous proponent of the term “rumble.” In her latest, Rising Strong, rumbling is the middle step of her process designed to help individuals overcome difficult feelings and rise better and more effective than ever before. And maybe it’s the day that I got to this part of the book, or maybe it’s just the time in my life that I came upon this work, but a question she posed thumped me in the chest in a moment where I needed the push, needed to step into the ring and start rumbling.

Brown cites an example of a conference roommate who disrespected her and the rules governing their shared space, leaving her feeling angry and disappointed. In rehashing the incident with her therapist, Diana offered her a single but powerful question: “Do you think this person was doing her best?” Brown had to, well, rumble with this question. Upon immediate examination, she bristled at the idea, insisting there was no way that this careless, brusque woman was operating at her best. But after having a conversation with a bank teller, about a fellow patron who was acting out, she was compelled to rethink her assumptions. Her exploration paralleled my own journey nicely, pushing me to do some rumbling of my own with some incidents and relationships I’d been avoiding the rumble with.

As I dug into the question Brown was posing, I spent time looking back at situations and relationships I had, up until recently, put off rumbling with. My go-to moves prior to asking the question were filing things away without talking about or thinking through them, or dismissing them as unimportant. Years of shying away from vulnerability made that avoidance of surging hurt feelings, heartbreak, grief, fear, or loss feel incredibly normal. But Brown makes a convincing case for resisting that shielding urge, instead giving in to the rumble.

To bring in a concept from another recent read of mine, Maria Konnikova’s The Confidence Game, operating with an eye toward trust makes sense. It’s how we find the people we care about: by being open and accepting enough to let them in. There are biological advantages to operating this way. We want to trust people around us, which is why (a) confidence games are designed to build trust, and (b) why those who have been ‘conned’ are not immune to being ‘conned’ again.

For some of us, fears about being conned while vulnerable — the ideal state in which to ‘con’ someone — make us not savvy, but impermeable. I can own this here: I’ve been guilty of passing off impermeability as savvy or self-preservation. But it doesn’t generally work. In fact, Brown cautions strongly against it. Why? Because most people are not conning us. As Konnikova elaborates upon considerably in her opening chapters, most people are not confidence artists. Most people are trustworthy and authentic, not meaning to cause malice. As I’m continuing to learn, responding or behaving in kind can change the way we live, work, and love one another.

Think about a situation in your own life where you might have clashed with a coworker, friend, romantic partner, or project collaborator. How would your judgment of those around you change if you assumed what one of my mentors terms as “universal positive intent”? Even in moments where these people are being incompetent or disrespectful, or outright mean or hurtful, what would happen if you assumed they were doing their best?

*I should note that sometimes the answer will be no; as an example, I’m rarely of the belief that Internet trolls — not contrarians or devil’s advocates but actual trolls — are not doing their best. Sometimes you’ll pose the question and get a negative response, but asking the question will more often than not yield a positive result.

For many people, operating under the assumption that people are doing their best changed their approach when living or working with challenging people. It makes you more empathetic to their challenges, understanding of their work style and responses to outside factors, and attentive to how you can help them be their best. The next time you’re backed into an uncomfortable corner by someone in your life, this assumption of positive intent and inquiry about if someone is doing their best could change everything. When I think back about moments where I’ve been most hurt, I’ve realized that assuming universal positive intent of the person I’m “rumbling” with completely changes the judgment I’ve assigned to their actions, the self-righteousness or frustration I’ve felt rightfully entitled to. It makes me forgiving in a way that presently doesn’t always come naturally, but I’m hoping takes less and less effort as I incorporate rumbling into my lifelong routine.

In a word, Brown calls the people who are best able to incorporate this sort of philosophy wholehearted: “people willing to be vulnerable and who believe in their self-worth.” It’s not the default reaction for many people, and in fact takes a lot of work. But Brown argues it’s worth it and I’m starting to agree. Rumbling makes you curious, thoughtful, wholehearted, and — eventually — strong.

Written by: Amma Marfo