Thoughtless. But not heartless.

Dear Friends,

Recently, I’ve been on both ends of a complex equation. And both times, I failed to add it up correctly.

Not long ago, I hurt someone’s feelings.  S/he told me about it via text and I have to admit I was surprised – both at the news I had hurt the individual, and that s/he chose to inform me via text. (Ah, the vagaries of modern life!)

I apologized via text but, looking back, I’m wondering if I did more explaining than apologizing. After all, when a slight is unintentional, isn’t our first impulse to explain it away? The individual texted a conciliatory response to my explanation/apology, so I figured the matter was put to bed.

Then a few days later, I received a note from the individual, apologizing to me and attributing the sensitivity to difficult personal circumstances.  And, interestingly, instead of feeling vindicated, I felt worse than ever.  I had been thoughtless, even if unintentionally so.  Had I also been self-righteous in my explanation/apology, enough so to prompt a return apology?

My association with this individual is longstanding, so I sat down and wrote a letter saying that no further apologies are necessary and that I was grateful for a relationship that had weathered far worse. I hoped s/he found my letter to be as warm and sincere as I tried to make it, and that my reassurance would prompt the individual to release any remaining guilt or worry.

We’ll see.

Not long after that series of interactions, somebody else (actually, more than one somebodys) hurt my feelings.  Instead of saying something immediately, I stewed. I’d like to think I’m tough as nails and rarely get my feelings hurt, but the truth is, I’m just more reluctant to speak up.

However, in this case, my hurt was obvious, so it wasn’t long before one of the somebodys broached the subject. Once the door was opened, I delivered a calm but lengthy analysis of the thoughtless act and of why I found it so disheartening. The listener attempted an explanation, in addition to an apology, but I wanted no part of it.

I can’t say the conversation ended well. It wasn’t ugly, by any means, but I think it’s fair to say we both left with the feeling that the matter was unresolved.

And today, all I can think about is the fact that — in the course of a week — I’ve been on both ends of the hurt stick and each side feels utterly miserable.

I can’t help but notice that in both situations, the perpetrators were thoughtless. But I, as well as the folks who offended me, was far from heartless. And that must be what stings most – knowing that no matter the intentions of my heart, I’m still capable of blundering my way through someone’s life in a way that is hurtful, just as others are capable of hurting me.

And explanations and apologies are the just the beginning of putting the pieces back together. Because what really has to happen is that both sides have to muster enough humility to admit one of two things:

I’m not perfect. I am capable of really screwing things up in ways that cause others pain and/or harm. The only way to make it better is to find the courage to admit it and ask for forgiveness. Then I must be gracious and forgive me.

– or –

I’m not perfect. And the people around me aren’t either and when they screw up, I must realize it takes courage for them to admit it. Then I must be gracious and forgive them.

Notice how both situations are resolved with forgiveness? For some of us, forgiveness is found in that region of the heart that is most remote and difficult to penetrate.

Like gratitude, though, forgiveness is free. And it comes more naturally with practice.

So excuse me. I have some practicing to do.

With gratitude {for difficult lessons, patient teachers, and the fortitude to endure both),

Joan, who wants desperately to make an A in Life, but had no idea it takes so much study

Kind of a big deal.

Dear friends,

Kindness (no pun intended) is kind of a big deal for me.

What I mean is — I strive to be kind, in word and in deed. And I expect you to return the favor. It’s not that I’m a quid-pro-quo kind of gal. I’m  not. But I believe kindness is our most effective social currency. I try to spread it around liberally (it makes me feel good, it makes you feel good, so why not?), and I’m always puzzled and a little sad when someone else doesn’t.

I fell in love with Mr. Mom for many reasons, but I can say without reservation the chief reason is that he’s kind. In fact, my mother said two things about him after she met him for the first time. First: Lordy, that’s the skinniest boy I’ve ever seen. Second: He’s very kind.  My mother always did know how to get to the point.

To make sure my point is clear, I think it’s important to define what I mean by kind.  Kind people are thoughtful. They are empathetic. They extend the benefit of the doubt. They grant favors, particularly unsolicited ones. They forgive easily and quickly. They spread love through kind words and strive to leave others feeling better than they found them.

I’ve been thinking for a couple of weeks now about a post on this topic. There’s a woman I know who I’ll refer to as Jane.  Jane goes out of her way to avoid kindness. I’m not saying Jane is mean, although she has been unkind to me on a few occasions. Mostly what I notice is a complete absence of kindness in her demeanor, meaning you don’t feel a scrap of love or empathy or thoughtfulness when you interact with her.

Even when I extend a kind word to Jane, she has trouble accepting it. (Or I must assume she has trouble accepting it because she never comments, nor offers the customary “thank you.”)

Joan: You look really nice today. I like your dress.

Jane: <silence>

I try not to interpret silence as hostility but, frankly, it’s difficult. And I’m human, so if I think you’re hostile toward me, I tense up. I get defensive. I avoid you. Eventually, I might even justify thinking unkind thoughts about you because you started it, for Pete’s sake! And, best I can tell, Jane has many difficult relationships, so it’s not like it’s my problem.  (How’s that for one big, juicy rationalization? Jane started it and it’s all her fault!)

But Jane is a woman I really can’t be unkind to, so I’ve spent a lot of time trying to crack the code. And nothing, nada, I’ve tried has worked. This is unusual for me because I’ve cracked a lot of codes in my lifetime. I’m known to be good with people. And so failing with Jane just makes me feel worse about me and worse about her.

Until the other day. When I tripped across this sentiment while browsing the internet:

Source: La Boom

Notice it’s reminding us to be kind to ourselves rather than others. I wondered why for a moment, then I realized that kindness, like charity, starts at home. If you cannot be kind to yourself, you can’t possibly be kind to others.

And imagine how you would feel if your Brain never said one kind word to your Self. Your Self would feel under attack by that biatch the Brain, and — when under attack — Self’s first instinct is to pull in, toughen the exterior, put out the vibe You can’t touch me.

This notion gave me pause. I don’t know much about Jane, but I know she grew up disadvantaged. And based on how hard she is on others, I can only imagine how hard she is on herself . . . and how hard somebody from her past must have been on her to make Jane believe she needed to keep it up, even in the face of kindness from others.

Somehow, this helps me. It inspires me to keep extending the kindnesses, even if Jane continues to rebuff me. Whatever kind word or deed I extend to Jane might just be the only one she gets that day, from the people around her or from herself. And that’s a powerful motivator, I find. How about you?

With gratitude {for a mother and grandmother who instilled in me enough confidence and hope to properly cultivate kindness to myself and others},

Joan, who usually finds all the answers she needs when the questions stop being about her

Debunking the 50-50 rule.

Dear Friends,

Last night Mr. Mom and I were in the bathroom together for our nightly ritual of teeth-brushing and other pre-bed preparations. As we finished up and walked toward our bed, Mr. Mom said: Oh . . . I’ll be right back. I think Kate forgot the leftovers on the counter and I’ve got to put the food away.

I said: Okay. I’ve got to crawl into to bed now and get really comfy and warm.

And you know what Mr. Mom did? He laughed. He laughed out loud as he walked out of the room to take care of what is typically Kate’s responsibility but became his on this evening because his daughter wasn’t feeling well and it’s a cinch his wife didn’t think of it.

As I crawled into bed and got busy getting really comfy and warm while he took care of the last of the nightly chores, I thought about the kind of man it takes to not only head to the kitchen while his wife goes to bed, but also the kind of man who laughs when his wife makes a joke about it.

Let me tell you — it takes a man who knows there’s no such thing as the 50-50 rule.

There’s an epidemic of working mothers who spend a lot of time contemplating the 50-50 rule. I know this because the women talk about it endlessly.  And in case you’ve haven’t heard of the 50-50 rule, it’s what I call the myth that married couples, especially working parents, should share “the burden” equally.

It doesn’t matter how you define “burden.” Housework, shopping, laundry, financial planning, child-rearing, pet care, lawn maintenance —  these are all part of the never-ending list of chores every married couple has to face and, more importantly, to negotiate responsibility and accountability for.

A woman I know recently got divorced over the 50-50 rule. Or so said her husband, who felt that his wife wasn’t pulling her fair share (whatever “fair” is). Another woman I know told me not long ago that she and her husband had a “come to Jesus” meeting about his failure to appropriately pitch in.

I mentioned the latter situation to Mr. Mom because the woman is a mutual friend.  After I told him the long version of the story, he said: You know, there’s no relationship that’s ever 50-50. Sometimes it’s 60-40 and sometimes it’s 70-30 and sometimes it switches the other direction 80-20. At any given time, somebody’s always giving more than the other person and somebody else is taking more. It’s never equal.

I thought about this for a minute because – given our long established roles with me as the earner and Mr. Mom as the caregiver/household manager – I hadn’t contemplated equality in a very long time.

Before I could respond, he added: It’s like this. In every relationship, somebody is the quarterback and somebody is the blocker. And, sometimes you’re just the trainer that tapes all the ankles. After all, somebody has to tape ankles. I don’t understand why couples waste so much time calculating and worrying over the percentages.

So now it’s obvious how I’ve managed to stay married for 20 years.   Choice is everything and I picked a good one, even though at the time I wasn’t smart enough to know it; I just knew I was in love.

But it does explain why my friend, the one who thought her husband needed a reckoning, later said to me: “You know, Joan, you and Mr. Mom seem to have the most natural partnership of any couple I know. It just seems like you guys have it all figured out.”

I’d like to think there’s something in this world I’ve figured out but, like always, I chalk it up to the man who’s a whiz at math but has never bothered counting who’s ahead.

With gratitude {for the man whose bedside manner while taping ankles is exceptional},

Joan, who thinks she got a bargain when she agreed to bring home the bacon in this deal

PS: I claim no special knowledge of human psychology or the path to marital happiness. And I understand that relationships are personal and complex and not easily condensed into tidy blog-advice packages, so you won’t hurt my feelings if you think I don’t “get” you or your situation. But I do know this: failure to keep a tally is the key to success in most things, including marriage, but also jobs and friendships and child-rearing and neighborliness and every other endeavor where it is more blessed to give than receive.

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