Saturday, June 30, 2012

When we are wrong

Frequently, when driving, I remind myself to check my mirrors - and I use my rear view mirror twice as much (at least) as I do the side mirrors.  Looking back once in a while lets me know where I am on the road in relation to the other drivers, and alerts me to potential problems of which I might not be aware otherwise.  Knowing where I am helps me make adjustments to compensate for errors - either my own or others' errors - that happen because of inattention or unexpected events. 

It's important to know where we are, if there's anything wrong, or that could go wrong.  And it's important to correct mistakes as soon as possible in order to avoid perpetuating them or making them continue and get worse. 

So it is in life.  

I lived most of my life trying to avoid admitting that I was in the wrong about anything.  I spent a lot of my time trying to protect myself instead of facing my fears and admitting my mistakes.  I never truly apologized for anything, because I'd been taught through example that forgiveness was making excuses for the other person, so I firmly believed that apologizing was giving other people the excuses they would need in order to make what I did "not wrong." 

Likewise, I never truly forgave anyone because either I denied that what they did was wrong ("they had their reasons" and all that) or I refused to forgive, believing that by "forgiving" them, it would be like saying that what they did wasn't hurtful...when it was.

But the last three and a half years has been a learning experience for me.  I discovered that what I had been taught about forgiveness was not correct; in fact, it was the opposite of the truth.  And I learned - by trial and error - how to take responsibility for my own actions.  This was huge for me.  One of the tenets of my new lifestyle since that time is to occasionally check my rear view mirror - and when I am wrong, to promptly admit it.  No excuses, no justifications.  No trying to put a positive spin on it.  Just admit, "Yeah.  I messed up.  I am sorry.  I'll try not to do that again."  

Notice I said "when" I am wrong.  Not "if."  I mess up.  A LOT.  Admitting it does a few things.  First, it forces me to take responsibility for my own actions, and opens me to the possibility of changing how I interact with this or that person. Second, it acknowledges that the other person is hurt.  Sometimes all anyone needs is to know that he or she has been heard, understood, validated.  Third, it paves the way for me to be able more easily to forgive myself (often the hardest one to forgive!) and to move on.  (It could be argued that nobody deserves a second chance, but everybody needs one. Including the person who has erred.)

Also notice another application of the word "when."  What I mean is "as soon as."  When we are in the wrong, even if there is fault on both sides, as soon as we realize that someone else has been injured, that's the time to make it right.  Even if they don't take it well. Even if they don't forgive right away. 

Source of this image
Leaving it alone for a short while might possibly allow someone to stop being angry and be more receptive to an apology.  But leaving it too long (that is, longer than a couple of days) will definitely cause the resentment to fester and make it even harder to reconcile with the person ... perhaps even impossible.  Promptly admitting my error - not only to myself but to the person or people I have wronged - is hard, but it is necessary.  

There is rarely an argument in which only one person is at fault.  But admitting my mistake is not the time to be bringing up the other person's mistake. It's a time to clean up my side of the street, to pick up the mess I made.  It's not about me and my pain; it's about the other person and his or her pain.  "If you are about to make your offering to God," Jesus said, "and you remember that your brother (friend) has something against YOU, leave your gift at the altar. YOU go to him first and be reconciled to him, and THEN come and present your gift."  (Matthew 5:23, 24 - emphasis mine)  That not only clears my conscience, but it just makes good sense in relationships.

It's possible to learn to accept responsibility without wriggling out of it.  It takes guts of course - but it is possible. And truth be told, it's absolutely essential.

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