I’ve been thinking a lot lately about apologies and how to accept them. I’ve even done a little research. Seems like there are those who find it difficult to apologize and those who find it easy. There are also those who find it easy to accept apologies and those who find it difficult to accept them. I suppose there are also those who find it easy to not get offended and those who find it hard to not get offended.
Let’s start there—at getting offended. I always hear that getting your feelings hurt is a choice you make. I especially think it’s true when someone else, not me, is talking about how their feelings got hurt. But when it’s my feelings that get hurt, and I tell myself I’m choosing to be hurt, it doesn’t seem to change anything. I still feel broken; the pain is still there. If I wait for an apology, I almost feel afraid—“I’m still hurt! How can I say it’s all right or doesn’t matter?”
Please realize I’m talking about average interactions here, not gross offenses.
I’m the kind of person who finds it easy to apologize but harder—not exactly to forgive, but to not be hurt—it’s hard for me to anticipate accepting apologies. Come to think of it, it’s pretty rare that I get them; maybe that’s why it’s hard to accept them—it’s all theoretical; I get almost no practice.
That sounds kind of like I’m walking around waiting to get hurt—and that may be partly true. I know when I’m tired something that’s funny in one instance might be really painful in another. I try to recognize that and it often helps—helps me get over being hurt after the event. I just can’t seem to help getting hurt in the first place. (Maybe because I’m always tired.) My mom used to tell me I needed to stop being so thin-skinned. Here I am, decades later, still apologizing for not being able to grow a thicker skin.
I’M SORRY, WORLD. MY FEELINGS ARE EASILY HURT!
I firmly believe in forgiving others for everything. I believe it’s good for them and it’s good for me. I’m not the judge. So I don’t understand why I’m so easily hurt. If someone says, “You did something wrong; that was an evil laugh; you’re mean; shame on you . . .” It hurts me. And those are the sorts of things people never apologize for unless you tell them, “That hurt my feelings.”
You know what? I feel really stupid confessing all of this. But it’s a problem I have, and want to explore. And I don’t have to publish this, do I?
In church today we learned about experiencing the bitter in order to appreciate the sweet more fully than we ever could have without the bitter time. The example was that in his younger years the man speaking had one of his children die shortly after her birth. He said that now he can appreciate his grandchildren even more than he would have without the experience. I believe him because I know what he means—not because I have children (I don’t), but because I’ve experienced appreciating things more because of previous hardship.
So, someone hurt my feelings today and I said to myself, “What would I like to have happen?” My first idea was that I wished it hadn’t happened. But I quickly remembered that idea of experiencing the bitter so I could appreciate sweetness more. I started pondering that and my musings led me to writing, and that’s when I left off thinking. Now that I’m caught up, I ask again, “What would I like to happen?”
Do I want an apology from the person?
- Yes and no. In order for the person to apologize, they’d have to figure out that they’d hurt my feelings. I hinted that such a thing had happened, but they missed their cue. Furthermore, they went on to insult me again. Was it an intended insult? Does it matter? Am I a fool or is something wrong with me because I was hurt? Is there a difference between being hurt and being offended? (I think so.) Now, so many hours have passed that an apology might clear the air, but I don’t know how I would accept it.
What if I tell myself, “This person—this blind, unwitting person—wouldn’t hurt me intentionally for the world”?
This is a good thing to explore.
- Do I really believe that? (Yes.)
- Then why am I thinking of hurtful things to say back to them? Wouldn’t I, if they were present, realize they never meant to hurt me, and wouldn’t I also not want to do anything to hurt them? (It’s often my experience that when I’m in the physical presence of the “hurter,” everything ends up OK.)
I like that question, “Why am I thinking of hurtful things to say back when the person missed their cue and didn’t apologize?” This is a character flaw, I think, a defect in me. Am I protecting something, harboring some resentment (and why?), or is there something else here I should be aware of? Isn’t the fact that I’m easily hurt connected somehow to my desire to hurt someone who isn’t aware of what they “did” to me?
I”m going to step aside for a moment to revisit the idea that tasting the bitter enables us to more fully enjoy the sweet. Pruning hurts. It keeps happening too—annually, at least—and it hurts every single time it happens.
Pruning makes a better tree and it makes me a better person,
By now, I think I’m reconciled to the fact that avoiding pain (I’m still working on inconvenience) is not a good enough reason to avoid experiences. Most things hurt less than the fear of the pain anyway.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell said something about how certain experiences in life are like a Fiery Furnace ride at the amusement park. No one gets in line for that ride, but your turn always comes up again anyway. [Well, I looked it up, and this is what he said, “Those who emerge successfully from their varied and fiery furnaces have experienced the grace of the Lord, which He says is sufficient (see Ether 12:27). Even so, brothers and sisters, such emerging individuals do not rush to line up in front of another fiery furnace in order to get an extra turn! However, since the mortal school is of such short duration, our tutoring Lord can be the Schoolmaster of the compressed curriculum.” April 1997 General Conference, “From Whom All Blessings Flow.”]
Fiery furnaces apparently don’t have to involve great losses, they can be little things too. Or maybe we can look at them as Fall Pruning—a little fire, a little pain.
After all this rambling, I think I may be coming around to some kind of conclusion.
When confronted with the unexpected slap in the face (painful experiences, like mine today, are almost always unexpected, and more than a little bit shocking), suppose I was to say to myself, “Was this really a slap from that individual? Maybe, in truth, it was a snip from the Pruner’s shears. Oh, yes, that’s probably what it was. Those hurt. Yeah, they do, but I know it’s going to make me a better person—more capable of appreciating joy.”
Seriously, is there anyone with that kind of presence of mind?
I don’t know, but I’m going to try to remember that thought.