Wednesday Book Conversation: Rising Strong: Sewer Rats

Welcome to the weekly book discussion. My hope is that it starts a conversation, as if we were sitting in a coffee shop discussing over lattes. As such, it’s not intended to be a review or critique. So, please read, share, and join the discussion! This week is our sixth week reading Brené Brown’s most recent book Rising Strong.


In this chapter – and the next few, if I remember correctly – Brené is going to talk about some specific things we need to rumble with. The title of chapter six is “Sewer Rats and Scoflaws: Rumbling with boundaries, integrity and generosity,” so you have a pretty clear idea of where she’s going. If I wrote about each of those things individually, this post would go over 1,000 words, and really, if you’re going to read that much, your time would be better invested reading the actual book!

Instead, I want to ask you a question that she raises in this chapter that has had me thinking for about a month. Brené tells a long story about a conference she spoke at pro bono and, on top of that, she had to share a room with a woman who turned out to be a horrible roommate. Afterwards, she was working out her frustrations with her therapist, and her therapist asked her this question:

“Do you think it’s possible that your roommate was doing the best she could that weekend?”

After Brené answered in the negative, she turned the question on Diana, the therapist. “Do you believe she was doing her best?”

“You know, I’m not sure. I do, however, think that in general people are doing the best they can.”

Here’s my truth: like Brené, I’m cynical that people are doing their best. Sometimes it feels, in fact, like people are barely trying and sometimes – especially in traffic, or long lines at the grocery store or at the DMV, and especially in the comments section on YouTube – people seem to be trying to do their worst.

So, I’m not going to write much more about this. I hoped this series would spark a conversation, so here it is: in your life, as you interact with people – spouse, children, friends, coworkers, neighbors, whomever – do you believe people are doing their best with the tools they have?”


(I do have another quotation that I want to share that expresses my answer to this question, after having reflected on it a couple weeks, but I’ll share in the comments after a couple days!)

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  • Janet

    My cousin’s family has a list of rules posted in their mudroom area. Most of them are practical items such as “Don’t leave your homework on the dining room table when you are done with it.” One of the last ones is something to the effect of “Always assume positive intent.” It struck me when I read it, and while I probably have the most difficulty doing this with some of the people I’m closest too, it has been a helpful reminder to me, particularly when driving. Kind of similar to “always be kind to everyone you meet because everyone is facing a battle” (paraphrase). I’ve realized myself when I am the most irritable it is often rooted in my own frustrations with myself or something in my life. And some of growing in this just comes with being more mature and less insecure.

    It’s a toughie to answer your question. (I’ve had to do some deleting so I don’t ramble back and forth too long.) In general I say “Yes.” But, there’s a lot of things that also make me say No. I think part of it is we’re often somewhere in the middle. We’re putting forth some effort, but not necessarily doing our “best,” even with our limited tools. And, some of it for me is not increasing my toolbox even when I know there are ways I could do that.

    • Janet, you reflect my own back-and-forth answering this question! Thanks.

  • Michael T.

    There is doing your best when you are at your best and there is doing your best for this point in your life, this day in your life, this minute of your life. That is my cop out for not giving my best all the.time.