I wrote, “If you’re burning, you’re learning,” in my last post. You can look at it here. (But, “basically speaking,” as my Scottish friend always says, what I wrote was this: We burn inside when we are aware that we did something wrong.) So today’s post is a follow-up. What happens after we realized that we were wrong and we have some making up to do?
The first thing is going to the person we hurt and saying two of the hardest words there are. “I’m sorry.” That doesn’t just mean blurting out, “Torry, Ari,” like my son, Shlomie, at three years old, used to say to his one-year-old brother, Ari, after he’d kicked Ari, pushed him down, or threw sand in his face. (“Torry, Ari,” is still used around my house for an apology that isn’t really sincere.)
We have to look the person in the eye. (Another challenge.) And we have to let go of our pride. It’s our pride that gives us our tendency toward self-justification. (Any excuse that goes with, “I did that only because…” is self-justification.) Yeah, it’s hard to admit we’re not always saints. But our job is to keep changing and growing along spiritual lines. That means we have to admit that we’re not perfect but we want to improve.
Usually, though, “Sorry” isn’t enough. Because lots of people say they’re sorry. Whole jails are built around people who said they were sorry and then repeated the crime. It means changing our own behavior. No matter what the people around us do. No matter how someone bugs us or incites us or hurts us, we still have to keep our own behavior in check. We have to keep our own side of the street clean.
This does NOT mean apologizing for taking care of ourselves, for being happy when the people we love are miserable, for making choices which are right for us—choices that other people might not approve of. This does NOT mean apologizing to people who will hold what you’ve done against you and use it as ammo. (If someone says, “You might apologize but you are still a terrible ____ (friend, wife, daughter, son, husband, brother—fill in the blank)” then you know it is better to stay away. And one last thing: this does NOT mean apologizing more than once. Mea culpa is said one time. Don’t keep repeating it so that it becomes an internal mantra like, I’m bad, I’m bad, I’m worthless, I’m so ashamed…
What happens if we can’t apologize to someone because they’re already dead? That happened to my friend, Joelle, who wasn’t particularly nice to her mother-in-law, Charlotte. Joelle recognized that she could have treated Charlotte better but Charlotte was already gone. So Joelle made a decision to make indirect amends: every time she meets a woman named Charlotte, she tries to be particularly nice to her. And since Charlotte wore out her patience with complaints about her ailments, Joelle makes an effort to be especially patient to older people.
We’re burning, and learning, and then turning. Turning into the people we want to be. The other day, I went to a park that I used to play in when I was little and I thought, Would I, as a little girl, have liked the person I have become?
Something to think about.
It’s grand to apologize. It takes the weight off. It frees our minds to focus on more positive things. We can make up and move on. And hey, you might slip up now and then. It’s OK. That means we have another lesson to learn or the same lesson to learn but on a deeper level.
Tool for Tuesday: Making up brings about transformation.