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