Coping with COVID: Generous Interpretations
A personal essay
“The new normal.”
By this point, the phrase isn’t so new anymore. In fact, many large brands quickly adopted this mantra (along with a pervasive “we’re all in this together” motif) within days of the COVID pandemic hitting America.
Normal. It’s not new. It’s not even normal. Stay-at-home orders and the ever-shifting pandemic has reshaped our society in ways we don’t even know yet. During this time, what lessons are you taking with you?
I’m not necessarily talking about new ways of doing business (although those are key), new work methods or new apps. (But can I get an “amen” from those of us that caved to TikTok?) I’m referring to personal learnings that can range from big light-bulb realizations to quiet, evolving resolutions.
How will you come out of this season changed as a professional, spouse, parent, child, student, leader or friend?
Researcher, speaker and writer Brene Brown weaves a theme through much of her work known as “generous interpretations.” In her book Rising Strong, she defines this as the ability to “extend the most generous interpretation possible to the intentions, words and actions of others.” In essence, when we are hurt, angered, confused or simply rubbed the wrong way, we choose to assume that the other person is doing the best they can and extend the most gracious assumption about his or her behavior until we have more information. Surely difficult in practice, this ongoing art can alleviate much conflict and unnecessary judgment in both professional and personal dynamics.
While Brene interweaves this concept with several other larger ideas, generous interpretations can stand alone. And I’ve learned that during COVID.
A Not-So-Generous Example
Let’s go super simple on this example, shall we? Not too long ago, I was on a WebEx conference call. (Shocker, I know.) The speaker was trying diligently to run through her talking points while one of the 28 people on the call was typing away noisily — rather rudely, I might say. Seriously. If you’re going to multi-task, at least have the courtesy to put yourself on mute. How basic is this principle, people?!
I was starting to form a miffed grudge against one lady in the group — the clear culprit — … only to realize 60 seconds later that the culprit was ME. (For the record, I was taking notes. But regardless!) A generous interpretation would have been to assume the other person simply forgot the mute button and was taking good notes. (The added kicker, of course, being that I was said culprit.)
Generously Putting It into Practice
Brene does clarify that “generosity is not a free pass for people to take advantage of us, treat us unfairly or be purposefully disrespectful and mean.” But whether it’s the coworker that “dropped the ball,” the in-law that seems to overcorrect your parenting or the neighbor that never mows his lawn, extend your most generous interpretation to their situations. Perhaps the neighbor got sick and can’t get out. Perhaps the coworker is working feverishly and is in the midst of researching additional information for the project.
Start from a place of grace, because as Brene also says, “Grace will take you places hustling can’t.”
What learnings are you taking with you this season?
Looking for more? We’re sharing our tips to cope with COVID.