My friend Matthew called me several years ago to let me know he was getting a divorce. He had found proof that his wife was cheating. She denied it for several months, hoping that Matthew would overlook her indiscretion and that she wouldn't have to admit to it. But Matthew wanted honesty. "I would have agreed to a fresh start, but without honesty or even a heartfelt apology, that's just not possible." I understood his reasoning. How can you trust someone who only thinks of themselves?
Hearing from Matthew again recently, I began reflecting on his life experience, and on my good fortune to be raised by parents who felt it their duty to pop the vapid bubbles of arrogance should they have cropped up in my childhood home. An arched eyebrow with a targeted, "you might want to rethink that" was enough to get me to do just that.
Confidence was to be earned, I was taught. It didn't come any other way. Arrogance was just another word for false pride in our home -- empty, fake, inauthentic, and it didn't get any attention or respect. "Arrogance won't leave you anything to stand on," my dad would say. So, the focal point in my life path became -- authentic.
If you developed an authentic skill, you were allowed to be proud of your accomplishment. But you weren't given any room or attention for false pride. Your successes and your struggles didn't give you permission to be rude or unkind or thoughtless in any way. I appreciate and respect my parents for setting that standard, particularly as I pass that standard on to my own children today.
Though as a teenager I remember accusing my parents of such, they didn't want to take any of the joy out of our wins or eliminate a place for our sense of struggle, but they did want us to be protected and grounded. Authentic self-development and confidence empowers a belief in one's self. And any kind of puffery will wither you to the core over time, leaving you alone and frightened.
I ran into Matthew recently and as we caught each other up on our lives, he shared that his 13-year friendship with someone we both knew had ended. While going through a challenging time, Matthew had made the mistake of speaking poorly behind his friend's back and she found out about it. Rather than have it out with him, she created distance and ultimately drifted away from the relationship altogether. Matthew admitted he had been a poor friend to her in other ways and confided that in hindsight, he ought to have just reached out and apologized to her for being a jerk. "I just made everything worse by pretending I wasn't at fault. I never knew until now that pride was a weakness my former wife and I shared."
When Matthew and I lived in the same town, we would often talk about apologies and when to offer them. Matthew never felt he needed to apologize if some harm he caused wasn't intentional. And like a lot of people, he didn't want to apologize when he had a hard time admitting he was wrong and had made a mistake. There it was again. Arrogance -- that insidious destroyer of relationships, rearing its ugly head.
I would always argue his point, as I do today. What if you were driving a bus down the road and hit someone accidentally? Would you jump out of the bus and yell, "I didn't mean to!" and drive away? Or worse, get offended if they were upset with you for swiping them? "It was an accident! Why are you so mad at me?!" Or would you jump out and say, "I'm so sorry! Are you okay? How can I help you? What do you need?" Hopefully most people would take the latter path, and think of the other person before they thought to protect themselves and their worthless pride.
It's no different in relationships of every kind. If you hurt someone, intentionally or accidentally, take responsibility for your actions, apologize, and ask them what you can do to help make it right. Then, within reason, follow through and do it. Be authentic.
It doesn't matter if you think they may not be willing to accept your apology, that's not your business. If they've been hurt, they may need the space to feel disappointed for a while in order to get through what's happened. What is your business is that you own up to your mistakes. That shows -- hopefully, anyway -- that you're accepting responsibility and you're willing to do things differently from this point forward.
Apologies and authentic regret are powerful healers in relationships. They can bridge emotional distance, heal hurt feelings and forge new pathways. And they, along with an authentic sense of responsibility, can protect you from losing friends and loved ones and having people lose respect for you. Arrogance and false pride offer no benefits whatsoever.
For more by Melissa Van Rossum, click here.
For more on conscious relationships, click here.