Recently, I had to ask a friend for help. This person is in a position to help me, with very little sacrifice, and yet, he said, "No." He had a long explanation, which I understood and it was reasonable, but still, it had taken a lot for me to ask and this was a setback I wasn't expecting.
I was in a situation partly of my own making, but largely as a result of someone else's behavior, and this is the first time in a very long friendship that I had reached out in this way, after many years and many occasions of me being there for him. Yes, this is a person who is asked for favors often, but not by me, and (as he fully understood) -- not lightly.
I needed help and I was turned down. But that was okay. That was within the realm of expectation. No one has any obligation to do a good deed for anyone else, and we all live by our own sets of rules. You might find mine inspiring or appalling; there's no right and wrong, just different world views.
Here's where everything went sideways.
After the request and refusal, my friend started sending me emails with advice about other ways I could fix my situation. The tone and content of these ranged from patronizing to patently insulting.
Imagine you are plagued with thirst and a person holding a pitcher of iced tea refuses to give you any, then starts sending you emails suggesting that you try to find a source of water, complete with a Google Earth image of all the water in your area. As if that had never occurred to you. As if you hadn't exhausted that and every other possibility before asking for the tea.
I was at a loss as to how to respond. I let the emails fester in my inbox, as I tried to figure out what to say, letting them upset me every time I opened my computer, feeling my body tense up and my mind lose its grip on happiness for a moment. Then it hit me.
No reply was necessary. Those emails weren't about me, they were about him, and his need to feel he was helping me after not doing so in the one way I needed.
So I hit DELETE.
DELETE. DELETE. DELETE. Buh-bye offensive email.
Honestly, it felt great. Then, I told my brain to forget all about them. I didn't need to forgive him, because honestly, he didn't do anything to hurt me. In his very tone-deaf way, he was trying to help. Also, who knows if he was so put-off by my request that he was trying to decide whether or not to forgive me? It's difficult to gauge anybody's sensibilities in situations like these, and as I said, there is no right and wrong, just different playbooks.
Yesterday was my birthday. He sent me a text with good wishes, and I replied, "Thanks." I decided to put all of this in the past and let our friendship proceed as if the whole incident didn't happen. That's what will leave me with the most happiness.
And if writing about this helps even one other person get past a moment like this in their own lives, then maybe everything happened exactly as it was supposed to.
Now that makes me happy!
Valerie Alexander is the author of Happiness as a Second Language, a #1 Seller on Amazon in both the Happiness and Self-Help categories, and the forthcoming book, Success as a Second Language: A Guidebook for Defining and Achieving Personal Success, to be published October, 2014. She runs workshops and seminars for companies and organizations seeking to maximize their results by making happiness a priority, and for women seeking greater success in the workplace.