mi dispiace, i apologize, i’m sorry. was that so hard?

When my brothers and I were little and we’d argue, my mamma would usually have us work it out ourselves. If we couldn’t, we’d bring the injustice to our beneficent, definitive adjudicator and her judgment was routinely the same: listen to each other, say sorry, then kiss and make up. Yes, kiss. It’s thorny having to kiss someone if you aren’t really sorry.

Apologies: we need them not because we’re coming from a prideful place, or we want someone to grovel or feel shame, or because we’re blaming, but as an assurance that our hurt is understood, acknowledged and thereby create a lessened chance for repetition.

Saying, “I’m sorry,” doesn’t have to mean you agree; but it does mean you recognize the other’s wound as valid. This should be mandatory in raising children if you want to develop their empathetic side. Having empathy for another’s suffering is essential to a functioning society. Just observe the “compassionate” side of conservatives to see what self-righteousness spawns.

Someone said to me recently that you can’t ask for an apology because when s/he gives you one it won’t be real. Huh? That would just be passive aggressive agreeing, and how sad is that? If it’s not sincere, it’s not an apology, is it? And does he really think most of us over the age of six can’t tell the difference?

Asking for what you need is key to getting it.

If you request an apology, an understanding and your friend/family member refuses to give you one, then the message you’ll be getting is that “being right” is more important than resolution, more important than you. Who wants a relationship with a person that doesn’t care about your feelings, no matter who they are? Life is hard enough without others who won’t speak straight or act like adults when in conflict practicing smug contention.

When I was five, I rushed in the back door, my hard plastic headband—you know the ones with those sharp spikes inside—snapped in half dangling from my little fingers and burst out half sobbing, “You’re wrong, Mom! It’s not fair! It’s not FAIR!” My mamma’s first instinct was always to meet me and my emotions first, only later, when I was calmer, coaching me on my presentation.

“Mary hit me on my head, broke my favorite red headband,” I said holding the two pieces out, “and it hurt. And because you said to put myself in the other person’s place I couldn’t hit her back,” I shout-wept. “IT’S NOT FAIR!”

My mamma held me as I cried, said that I’d done well but—she was sad to tell me—life isn’t fair. I remember my response vividly as I moved back to stare at the blurry image of her through my tears, “Well, it should be.”

I still feel like that. I’ve stated that when I die, I want my ashes buried, then crowned with a wide-winged gravestone that will read: IT’S THE PRINCIPLE OF THE THING.

wanting for want or how to find your lost self

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Sometimes I think of all the things I could’ve been, could’ve chosen but didn’t. Not with regretful longing but with a curiosity of what might have been if I hadn’t heard my own voice louder than society’s blitz.

Such as the night I was studying with a college mate while she bar-tended and I inadvertently met the father of my children. Or the time I nervously wrote an email to someone I’d met just once but intuitively felt compelled to know better; he’s now one of my best friends. What if I’d been too timid to email or been overly insular with that college mate?

Many adults don’t actually choose thingsat least not from the heart—because they can’t hear their Selves. They live by default, going with what’s nearest or easiest instead of from existing eagerness and, regrettably, they teach their kids the same strategy.

With my clients, the most common dilemma—besides loneliness/emptiness, which is directly tied to what I’m discussing—is that they don’t know what they really want.

It is difficult to differentiate since most aren’t raised to come from the inside out but from the outside in, becoming prey to recurrent worlds of advertising, movies, TV, etc. bombarding them with ‘wants.’ The real truth is that inauthentic wants—even if they’re great for others—will never fill that hole.

I also repeatedly encounter a cellular fear-memory of eschewing wants for dread of rejection, ridicule or even abuse; they’d learned it was safer to settle. Unfortunately, settling is like breathing through one congested nostril: you get enough air to survive but it’s not sufficient to live.

Many people ‘deep-six’ who they intrinsically are before the age of two. Later they squander large amounts of money and time traversing the world in search of the perfect place to live, the ideal mate, the extreme experience, the ‘right’ career, ad nauseum, or they suffocate their spirit with diverse addictions.

Until they can’t. That’s when they show up in my chair and devote lots of energy and years peeling off life’s opaque paint trying to uncloak their original Selves.

For this reason I routinely ask these clients to go back to childhood enthusiasms as that’s where genuine wants were abandoned for approval and/or survival. Those desires have usually changed form but the sincere yearning is ‘vibrating’ nearby.

For instance, my first encounter with art, beauty and philosophical Truth was in the catholic church and I was awed. From that, I wanted to know everything. So—at age three—I decided I wanted to be god. (I dream big) My older brothers scoffed and dismissed that idea outright and, sadly, I accepted their elder “wisdom” as impossible.

Well, they were wrong. I muffled that want for two decades, but when it resurrected—guess what? I found ‘god’ within, and she’s one voice-y little hellcat who surrounds herself with animals, flowers, art, books and music and takes big, deep non-catholic breaths.

this old maid is a witch!

When my daughter was around four, someone gave us Old Maid. This was a card game I’d hated playing with my brothers as a child (HA HA you lose, you loser!) but unfortunately this was something Tara loved even though neither of us felt that great playing it. Reason: if I won, she was a bit downcast; if she won—even though I didn’t care—her empathetic nature would make her sigh and say, “It’s ok, Mommia, maybe you’ll win next time.”

If you don’t know the rules of the game, you take turns drawing a card from the other’s hand, laying down pairs and the one left holding the Old Maid loses. A seriously pathetic patriarchal projection, IMO, to infer that a woman would “lose” by deciding to remain unmarried. Spinster-schminster! And, BTW, what’s wrong with cats, birds and knitting ? (see image above)

One day, I suggested we modify the game so winning equaled acquiring the Old Maid and change the game’s name from the pejorative Old Maid to Ancient Witch.

And that’s all it took to make it fun! If I won, Tara could be happy for me; there was fine rejoicing and dancing when she won. It was an actual win/win.

Two lessons can be drawn here. The first is the oft discussed Buddhist thought that in order to change the world you have to change how you see the world. Straight forward and accurate.

Second: that altered vision could be to transform the divisive right/wrong, win/lose, good/bad paradigms into remembering that if one “wins” we all win. And the inverse is true, too, maybe not immediately but ultimately. It’s not about being independent vs. dependent.

Third answer: interdependent. As the bumper-sticker says: Everyone does better when everyone does better. Change is certain but—unfortunately with humans—inner growth is voluntary.

The time is here to think smarter, see deeper, act accordingly.