Stepping on Toes

by | Apr 24, 2020

Wrightsville Beach, NC

It is easy to accidentally step on the toes of our loved ones now that we are under more stress.  I recently learned that I accidentally stepped on the toes of my daughter when I mentioned her in a previous post.  I said that she “tries to pretend she is a lion when she goes shopping” without bothering to explain that she has no intention of being king of the supermarket jungle.  What she meant was that she tries to accept whatever is available on the shelves on a given day—the way a lion accepts its choice of prey when hunting.  A lion doesn’t get its heart set on zebra and freak out if only antelope are available.  A lion knows the difference between needs and wants and doesn’t get too attached to the latter.

In a perfect world, we would be so aware of other people that we would never hurt them, but we are far from perfect just as the world is far from perfect.  This pandemic crisis has made it clear how imperfect the world is.  But a world that is imperfect can also be beautiful, just as person who is imperfect can also be beautiful.  I was reminded of our beautiful and imperfect world when I took a walk yesterday and saw a garden full of the most wonderful flowers.  I don’t have enough garden knowledge to know the names of these flowers, but I was pleased to see them collectively making the statement: spring is planning to move forward on all cylinders, virus or not.

I am glad that I have the opportunity to apologize as a psychologist when I make a mistake.  I am sure surgeons have this same opportunity, but it must be a lot harder when you remove the wrong body part as compared to saying the wrong thing.  It’s not uncommon for me to check in with a client and say, “I hope that didn’t sound critical.”  I do this because healing is less about figuring out what is wrong with you and more about figuring out what is right with you.  You don’t need to pay a professional for the experience of being criticized or judged.  You can usually manage to get that experience for free.

Two words that have become more important during this pandemic crisis are: I’m sorry.  They’ve become so important because we’re more inclined to step on each other’s toes now that we’re all feeling more scared.  However, what might be even more important than apologizing is changing your behavior so you don’t have to repeat the same apology.  An apology that gets recycled too often starts to feel like a lie.  For the record, the only time I lie to my wife is during the winter months when she asks if I’ve turned down the thermostat.

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