A few weeks ago I shared on this very blog some of the lessons that I have learned in the year leading up to my 29th birthday. To say I was overwhelmed with how that particular piece resonated with readers is a gross understatement. The conversations that grew out of it were so enriching. After all was said and done it was a humbling experience.
As I slowly navigate my way out of my twenties I have slowly started to appreciate more and more some of the bigger lessons that I have learned over the last decade. In my twenties I discovered that I (mostly) knew nothing at all. It has been a period in my life when I began to unlearn some of the things I thought I had learned. In hindsight, as chaotic and uncomfortable as my twenties have often been, I realise that the changes had to come together; otherwise their individual impact would have been negligible.
It was reflecting on this that I realised that I had left out an important lesson that I had not only learned in the past year, but I continue learning and has been a product of the many relationships I have been privileged to be a part of in my twenties.
I have a big ego which often manifests itself in a need to be right. Managing my ego and letting go of the need to be right has been a struggle. I am the eldest child. I was reared to be right and lead. I was reared to think cogently and debate effectively. I reveled in intellectual sparring. I recognise now that on some level, I reveled in it, not just because it provided me an opportunity to learn, but a chance to feed my ego. I was never a gracious debater. Though my words were said with class, the aim was to wound my opponent. Defeat them using whatever tool I had to employ. Logos, ethos, pathos, or a witty remark that they would spend half the debate trying to unpack. This was not how I was raised, but it is what I made myself. Plus when you are losing in the other arenas of life, winning a debate (however pointless) can be incredibly self-affirming.
Then it happened. I was the recipient of the intellectual humiliation I had liberally handed out for years. This was both a horrible and great thing. It sharpened my mind, but cut my heart. I realised what it is to be made to feel small, just because someone wants to arrogantly convey a futile point. Their urge to make a point means they dismiss your feelings, the basic need for you to feel respected, welcome, like you are worth something.
I lost my need to be right because I realised that most of the time I was wrong. I realised that spending my life constantly proving the merit of my nascent, myopic opinions, meant I was constantly losing opportunities to learn something else. Something more dazzling (or it could be something boring) either way, my attachment to the traditions and beliefs I allowed to rule my mind, meant my view of the world wasn’t expanding at the rate it should or could.
As I have slowed learned to manage my ego and subsequently abandoned my need to be right, I have started to grasp the redemptive and humbling power of asking for forgiveness. I have learned the power of those three little words “I am sorry”. Historically, I had been great at apologising. Not so much at actually saying “I am sorry”. My apologies were formal, guarded, and professional. They could be framed with intellectualism and delivered in a tone that suggested a concession had been made on my part. I had let cold apologies govern my relationships when they were on the brink of collapse and in desperate need of warmth.
When I said, “I apologise” I knew precisely what I was doing. I love words, their power and how they can transport you to a realm you didn’t know existed. I knew if I said “I am sorry” from my essence and with all my truth, it required vulnerability, raw honesty, humility,t he type of strength that looks like weakness to the untrained eye and courage. If they rejected my “I am sorry” it would mean that I would have shown them how much I cared and it didn’t matter (enough) to them. My ego wouldn’t let that happen.
When I apologised, I made the healing process about me. As I have grown I have begun to appreciate the redemptive power of the words “I am sorry” and how when said with earnestness, transparency and penitence, they could bind up wounds that once seemed irreparable – it dawned on me. It isn’t about me or my ego. It’s about them. It’s about their healing.
A week after I posted that piece I said “I am sorry” to someone.
I said sorry because my words to them, though true, were harsh and were not conveyed righteously. In my effort to be honest, I had forgotten to be loving. And this was to a person who I love and care about. Who like all of us is frail and flawed, but deserves to be told the truth in a spirit of love rather than one of bluntness. What’s the point in making a point if it scars rather than heals? The person will never remember the point, but they’ll always remember how it scarred them and how it felt when your words pierced their heart.
So I said I am sorry. Reminded them that their beauty, courage and greatness, far outweighs any misdeeds they could ever do. That I hoped they would always remember those words, rather than my accusations of the evening before. They accepted my “I am sorry”
It was only after reflecting on this that it dawned on me that my ego had for a long time inhibited my ability to say sorry. And now that I had learned to manage it and let go of my need to be right, I was free. Witnessing them heal sets me free. Not free from the guilt of the deed that sparked the process, but free to say “I am sorry” again, to someone else.
Free to reembark on friendships that I believed were broken or dead. Free to pick up the phone and call family members who though living, feel like ghosts. Free to know that even if stuff does get screwed up, I am bold enough to say I am sorry and ok with being wrong.
So that lesson that I left out …
30. Apologising and actually saying those three little words “I am sorry” is not always the same thing.