I wonder how many times I’ve hurt someone unintentionally and not known it. Or hurt someone because of assumptions I made that had far more to do with my experiences than with their realities.
I’ve considered this in the context of people who’ve hurt me and not seemed to care. It’s occurred to me later that those folks may not be cruel as much as they are careless, oblivious, or – to extend to them the grace I’d hope to be extended myself – distracted or affected by something in their own lives at the time.
After my divorce, I carried a tender ego into every might-be romantic relationship, and because I anticipated failure and disappointment, I often assumed ill intentions on behalf of my partners. In hindsight, I cringe at things I did while operating under negative assumptions that must have made others feel accosted or unworthy.
Can it be too late to say you’re sorry? What if you aren’t sure whether you’ve actually hurt the person to whom you’re apologizing? Won’t it be awkward or – worse – painful to dredge up something the person has already moved along from, just to make yourself feel absolved?
Those are legitimate questions, and I don’t believe we need to track down every kid we ever called a name in junior high. (I know I don’t want some of those asshole kids from my 7th grade year calling me up!)
But sometimes the risk is worth it.
I learned this with a woman for whom I expended a horrible amount of energy trying to either avoid or antagonize, largely in response to what I perceived to be her disrespect and bullying.
Our styles and personalities were very different, and we let this be a clash rather than a complement. But our biggest obstacle to a healthy relationship occurred very early on, when we both said some things to unintentionally bruise the other one, and both of us – for our own unrelated reasons of pride, jealousy or background insecurities – allowed those bruises to penetrate.
It took us years to work out a truce, and even longer to establish trust – which is unfortunate on any count, but especially since we ultimately became sincere friends. We lost so much time for the goodness and wasted so much on the bad.
Apologies are tough, because not only are we acknowledging we’ve hurt someone, we are showing our weaknesses, examining our own motives and scars, and hoping the person will forgive us (the last part being out of our control).
But it is true: the more often we say “I’m sorry”, the more empathetic we become. And surely that is good for all relationships – present and future.