This I Believe

Owen - Mountain View, Arkansas
Entered on September 8, 2006

THIS I BELIEVE

I believe that we are all human; that’s right, all of us. And part of being human is that we all carry around inside of us the potential to do mean and stupid things that hurt other people. I don’t believe there is any way around this.

A while back I was watching a movie with my children. It was one of those big budget action/adventure spectaculars. During the climactic fight scene between the good guy and the bad guy it occurred to me that this wasn’t real. I mean; sure we fight a lot, but this good guy/bad guy thing seemed to be a distortion of reality. When looking back on the major conflicts that I’ve had in my life, whether they were with a boss, a spouse, or even the phone company, it seems to me that the other person was never all bad and I know that I was never all good. Usually I need the perspective gained from a little history to see this, but I believe it to be true.

I know this is not a groundbreaking revelation. I believe there are times when we all get to this point of understanding and it is in these moments that, when faced with our own perpetual state of imperfection, we make choices that steer the course of our human relationships.

When I realize that the hostility I have directed towards another was actually motivated by my own greed or fear or feeling of insecurity I have come to this place of decision. Often my first impulse is to choose denial, to see myself as the constant ‘good guy’ who would do no wrong with malice of forethought. Maybe this is instinct, the shielding of weakness. But, I have learned that one of my greatest errors in judgment is to believe that others will think less of me if I acknowledge to them the mistakes I’ve made. Sure it would be great to be right all the time, but who is?

When my children were little and I was stumbling along as an inexperienced parent there were times when I would unfairly lash out at them in anger and frustration. Afterwards, I would usually make a habitual inward turn into self-recrimination. But, one time I stopped myself and turned backed to my children and apologized, for them, because I wanted them to know that what I did was wrong. And to my surprise, I saw my children grow up a little right before my eyes. Instead of reproach, I could feel them sending me their love and support.

To acknowledge one’s own mistakes to another creates respect and trust, which helps us see each other as comrades in the struggles of life. Whether we are children or adults, individuals or great nation states, to make a sincere and unguarded public apology is one of the most powerful acts of human relationship that we can make.