The Hardest Question to Answer

Back when I was listening to Serial for the first time, I scoured the internet for more information about Serial and Adnan Syed’s case. This post isn’t about Serial (although I’ve listened to it twice now so if you want to talk about it, we definitely can).

Deep in the threads of Reddit, I came across a comment which has stuck with me. It read

A man is never as bad as the worst thing he has ever done.

I read it again. So simple and strangely beautiful. I googled it to determine if someone actually famous said this and came up with nothing, though there is a quote attributed to producer and screenwriter Billy Wilder which reads, “You’re only as good as the best thing you’ve ever done.”

Then I sat back and thought a minute. What’s the worst thing I’ve ever done? What’s the best? And for me, these were both incredibly difficult questions to answer.

The fact that I can’t answer the first perhaps means that I haven’t done too much bad. Maybe that’s a good thing. But when I couldn’t answer the second – What is the best thing I’ve ever done? Well, that made me a little sad. Shouldn’t something pop out at me? If I’m only as good as that thing, and I don’t even know what that thing is? I walk around each day believing that I am a good person at my core. How true could that be if I couldn’t think of an example?

I don’t have any glaring acts of good or bad in my life. In my story. I asked a few other people if they could think of anything and no one really could. Realistically I guess you may not share the worst thing you’ve ever done (or the best, out of modesty), but still, people seemed genuinely perplexed.

I guess I’ve concluded that most negative and positive acts aren’t these big, life changing events. It’s everyday kindness and accidental slips of mean.

But what this led me to recognize is that I feel this desire to make my life mean something more by doing more acts of good. That someday I may sleep at night knowing that I can answer the question “what’s the best thing you’ve ever done?” with absolute ease.

Ask yourself these questions and tell me if you can easily think of your examples (you don’t have to share them). I’d be so curious if this is a challenge for others as well.


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