It’s not easy being perfect. Always being on point, never making a mistake, carrying the burden of always being right, even when others don’t see it that way. It’s a lot of work, keeping all that up. Of course you know I’m joking, as (despite what you may see in the news these days), few among us would ever admit to truly thinking we’re perfect. Even though we’d never say such a thing, and probably don’t even believe we think such a thing, whether we realize it or not, we spend a lot of time defending our perfection. We know how to say sorry, but do we really know how to mean it?
Apologies can be challenging, but they are highly valuable and critical to maintaining human relationships. However, they are also rarely without terms, because being at fault for something is uncomfortable. We may try to manage the discomfort by distributing the blame. “Well, maybe I shouldn’t have said that, but you’re being overly sensitive,” or “I didn’t mean to bump into you, but you were standing in an awkward spot.” We “but,” “maybe” and “didn’t mean” ourselves into making the case that whatever has happened isn’t just on us. And maybe it isn’t. Maybe those counter claims – which may be externally voiced or internally vented – are valid. It’s interesting, though, that we can’t seem to process the situation without alleviating some of the weight of that discomfort from ourselves first. What if it didn’t matter that they other person is too sensitive, or was standing where they shouldn’t have been, or said something to irritate you first? What if all that mattered was how you responded? What if there wasn’t blame to be negotiated, but simply ownership to be taken, and amends to be offered, without strings or terms of any kind?
Easier said than done, I know. Even if it’s abundantly clear that you are in the wrong, and you not only have no interest in disputing that, but attempt to do everything you can and then some to make up for it, there are still terms in place. What if the other person doesn’t acknowledge your efforts, or won’t accept your peace offering? Then they’re a jerk, right? They’re bitter, self-centered, even ungrateful. Don’t they understand their role here? They’re supposed to accept what you offer – maybe even thank you for it – and then you both move on, with your burdens alleviated. If they don’t, maybe you try again, and even again. But eventually, you’re going to get fed up. Even the most heartfelt apology comes with terms. They need to forgive you so you don’t have to feel uncomfortable anymore. But is that really their job?
If you’re mindful, you know it isn’t. Your discomfort, in this case and in all others, is yours and yours alone. Mindfulness can help you sit with it, and understand that like all things, it is temporary. It will pass. In connecting to our own sadness or disappointment about the situation, we also better understand – and feel compassion for – the other person’s experience with the same. The moment for blame passes the instant the event has passed, if it ever exists at all. In the aftermath, the amends we offer should be wholehearted, without need or expectation of a certain response. Once we have done that, it is upon us and us alone to let it be, and perhaps at some point, to even let it go.
Photo credit: Skitter Photo