There is nothing I admire more in people than when they take responsibility for their words and actions. We all say and do things that are less than our best but we show our character when we take responsibility for what we do and say.
When I was 19, I was living in Alaska; I had read many of Jack London’s novels so I anticipated outdoor experiences where I would discover my true self through minimalist living and tests of physical endurance: a girl meets nature. What I got instead was learning about the nature of myself.
One of those experiences came after church volleyball. I am not skilled in any sport that involves a ball. Typically, I am welcomed by my fellow players due to my humor. I am pretty funny. That day, I was on a roll, cracking jokes mostly about my own skills; self-deprecating humor is usually safe. I made one comment concerning volleyball skills wasn’t about me, but about another young woman. It landed not with a thud but with laughter. Later, as I was leaving with a group of guys attending me (this was Alaska, after all, so a young lady was always accompanied), I asked out loud, “I wonder if what I said could have been hurtful?” I was strongly assured I was too sweet, everyone knows I am so kind, I was too awesome to misspeak… all words I loved to hear! One guy, however,said, “possibly.” The possibility was worth investigating.
So, I went back in and approached the young woman who had been the brunt of my harmless, not-possibly-offensive words. “What I just said, I think may have been hurtful. I am sorry.” Today, 20 years later I don’t remember what I had said, but I do still remember the look in her eyes. As I spoke I could see how she responded to my words that what I had said had made her question my intent – it had hurt. And though she said, “Oh, it was nothing,” and she laughed,I learned something that day. It had not been my intention to hurt, yet I had hurt her feelings, even though 98% of the people there saw nothing hurtful in what was said. That experience has stood out to me as a pivotal moment. I am charming, it’s true. With that charm, I could get away with saying a lot of things and people will take it, even laugh. But I have to remember, words impact people in often unintended ways.
I admire the ability to say sorry because I don’t think it’s a skill that comes naturally to us humans. I think we have mastered saying sorry in a way that is laden with “why are you making me do this?” We are accomplished at the “sorry” with rolled eyes of our teen years. We are excellent at the “sorry” that comes with expectation that the receiver will in turn validate us. We have refined our ability to say, “I am sorry you are so hurt,” which is not a sorry at all. All of these kinds of saying I am “sorry” place blame on the other person and not on the one who did or said what they said. Or one of my favorites, “I am sorry it’s just that…” which comes off as saying “I am sorry but you…” where saying I am sorry is a YOU statement about someone else.
I am proud of my 19-year-old self that walked back in and apologized without conditions and then walked out. I later recommended a guy friend of mine ask out that young woman. They got married. I fell in love with the man that said “possibly,” because he had the character to call me out, to tell me the truth, not just the pretty words I wanted to hear; the type of words we all want to hear. I didn’t marry him, but I did marry someone with the same quality. My husband has many times been an accountability partner, aiding me to become my best self and me for him. We have said sorry to each other without “you should have…” And we have swallowed the sorry’s of blame.
I admire the ability to take responsibility because I have worked so hard to develop that in myself, to say sorry and mean it. It’s important to say sorry if there was a possibility of misunderstanding. I am pretty sure that Drama is really defined by “I don’t ever take responsibility for my words and actions,I want you to take that responsibility for me.”
How can we trust ourselves, the nature of who we are,if we are don’t learn and grow from our past, including our past mistakes?