In a world where perspectives are many, where options are many-er, where we can order pizza or not, read Tolstoy or not, vote left or not, it is impossible not to bristle.
It is impossible not to be wrong.
Last week, I was wrong.
And it was largely uncomfortable.
It is uncomfortable to declare a situation having gone one way, only to realize you have completely missed the mark. You have bent the situation toward yourself, you have stood on your tiptoes to peer at things from the distance of you and you alone, and you have wound up sounding arrogant at best.
If you’re lucky, your wrongness flies under the radar.
If you’re luckier, it does not.
I have lived a small scrap of my life attempting two things: (1) great abs, and (2) not being wrong.
I have succeeded at neither.
But oh, I have tried. I have made excuses, shifted blame, pointed fingers. Once, when I had missed the finely printed ‘Refrigerate after opening’ on the side label of a gourmet olive oil, I stowed the bottle in the pantry and it was ruined in one week flat.
They really should have printed that larger, I’d said to Ken as I brushed the hair out of my eyes, dumped the bottle’s contents down the sink.
C’est la vie.
Last year, I began taking measures toward becoming less sensitive. It will come as a shock to no one that I have thin skin, that my cheeks burn at the slight mention of criticism, that I have a lot of work to do in this arena.
And a lot of work I did. A lot of work I am doing. I have become less sensitive when someone suggests a speck in my eye. I no longer think it’s necessary to make an excuse when I feel the criticizer is wrong, or to crumble when I feel the criticizer is right.
But do you know what else happened, by becoming less sensitive in my reaction?
I became less sensitive to my action.
We are taught, in today’s culture wrought with opinions and reactions and divisions, not to take things personally. We are taught to show compassion for others, to look beyond our own two eyes, to empathize with the way in which someone might feel. To see where they might be coming from. To see what they might be dealing with. To give the benefit of the doubt that they’re peering at us with a speck in their eye, in the name of good intentions, Amen.
But then, sometimes, we forget to look for our own plank.
Sometimes, we forget to take things personally.
The hard part, then, isn’t learning how to take things personally, or not. It’s learning when to take things personally, or not. It’s learning that – sometimes, when you’re yelled at, there is good reason.
That sometimes, sure, it’s not really about you.
And sometimes it is.
If we’re lucky, the honest and brave will show us our plank. And we can do one of two things: we can avert our eyes, shift blame, make an excuse.
Or we can say thank you to the plank-showers. We can let the embarrassment that comes from being wrong sit for a bit, let the small droplets of shame wash away our plank so we can forgive ourselves, so we can learn from this, so we can begin again.