She is my best friend. I had said some things that I thought needed to be said. But, true to the old adage that we hurt those we love the most, I delivered my message in a way that invited the kind of reaction I really didn’t want. You know what I mean, so I’ll save time here by declining to elaborate.
In becoming fully aware of the heartlessness of my words and the negative impact they had, I decided to do something I have not done frequently enough in my life. I took full responsibility for what I said, the way I said it, and for the fact that, no, it didn’t even need to be said.
That’s when the magic happened. Did she respond to my genuine remorse with anger and resentment and name-calling? No. Of course not. She apologized for the way she initially reacted to my nonsense.
A happy domino effect was now in full motion. I insisted that she had nothing to apologize for; that my immature attack had invited her reaction. She contended that she made a choice just like I did, that she chose wrong just like I did and that she consequently owed me an apology just like I had done.
Well, I will never forget how I felt. I think I actually started to get a little teary-eyed. This was a sweet and humbling moment. I wanted to wash her car, pick up her dry cleaning and do every other nice thing for her that she would ever need done! Her loving reaction triggered more of the same from me. I was grateful for her grace and reminded again of one of the wonderful benefits of taking responsibility.
The tipping point was when I followed an impulse to do something I did not want to do, something that in years past I would not have done. At key times in my life I have forgotten that love is a verb. Moreover, I have neglected the fact that being loving toward others is a duty and not an option if I want to be a man of honor. But this time I chose differently and I am glad I did. I decided to do the right thing rather than react according to the way I felt.
And how did I feel in the immediate moments after I got some negative “blow back”? I was offended! I was indignant and determined to stand my ground. I was the right and righteous one and, therefore, I was justified in my choice of words. That’s how I felt, anyway. That’s what I had deceived myself into believing.
But this time I chose differently and a very different and wonderful outcome was the result. The chain of epiphanies and “recovery conversations” I am describing here unfolded over the course of a few days. I didn’t come around right away. For me, it required asking myself some key questions I would ask anyone else in my same situation. And it required answering those questions honestly. Once I did, and I was now humbled by those answers, I had to apologize. My taking of responsibility was heartfelt and expressed from my heart. And magic was the result.
On second thought, was all that really magical? Not really. The dynamic described above was magical in the sense that it was something unexpected and seemingly supernatural. But when we take a detour off the familiar path of being bristly and defensive and instead choose to be loving, we should not be surprised at the repercussions. Seemingly supernatural things happen.
Humility invites humility. A loving gesture invites a loving response.
And by the way, if you’re reading these words and find yourself disappointed that this is all I’m saying because you feel like you’ve heard and read it all before, I have a word of encouragement for you: keep coming home to these reminders until you are a world class expert in these matters. And then keep coming back still.
Yes, of course I have had similarly humbling experiences many times before. The difference these days is that I now really do know better. I write and speak and teach and train on this stuff, so I should have it down by now, right? Yes, I should. But that’s where I get uniquely challenged. Arrogance tempts me into behaving as I described above; like I know that I am always right and righteous because I write about this stuff (how dare you think otherwise!).
Those who teach this stuff (how to relate better with others) can be tempted to think their own delivery is always above reproach and that anyone who has a problem with it, well, they are the ones with a problem. That’s the superiority, self-importance and conceit that I initially displayed to my dear friend. She was good, strong and courageous enough to confront that nonsense. It made me look inward and answer some deep questions.
The song by Dan Hill, Why Do We Always Hurt the Ones We Love? rhetorically asks, “Are we so scared of give and take?” To borrow from your self-created “know-it-all” status in order to win an argument is evidence of being afraid of real and honest (risky) give and take. Take it from me, a recovering know-it-all.
There are not enough loving people in this world who have the courage to lead by taking responsibility for their own mess ups and missteps. Those of us who are committed to improving our serve need to keep talking about it, writing about it, reading about it, and doing it. We need to quit with the attitude that we’ve got it down. We need to keep trying to think honestly about how we might be coming across to those we say we love.
The good news is that there are great benefits of taking responsibility. One benefit is that it never gets bad results. It only leads to good results. How many other proactive decisions in life are guaranteed to bring about a good outcome?
Benefit #2 of taking responsibility: it inspires more of the same.
NOTE: To those dealing with longstanding bitterness issues, it almost goes without saying that not every act of contrition will create instant goodwill, especially when a relationship has deteriorated for lack of loving deposits into the relationship over time. It may initially be responded to with suspicion and even resentment [After all you have said and done, why now? Why didn’t you take responsibility for your junk a long time ago?]. If that is the case, only time will reveal whether you are taking responsibility in words only – and merely as a technique to get the other person to follow suit – or whether you really, truly mean what you’re saying. If you are unconditional and you deeply mean what you are saying, those seeds will take root and, sooner or later, will shoot skyward. Sooner or later, a loving gesture invites a loving response. You’ll see. Taking responsibility always leads to good results.