“What’s a good apology gift?”
I once saw someone ask in a post.
The top answer was:
“A change in the behavior that warranted an apology.”
Most people will not change.
Most people are professional mimics of the person they were yesterday.
It’s uncommon to find someone who understands the process of change.
We can change.
It’s just not very exciting.
The process of making a change goes something like this.
Something convinces us that the bad circumstances we’ve experienced, they could have gone another way.
Then, next time the opportunity for change comes around, usually we notice it too late. We realize, this was an instance where things could have gone differently, but they went rotten, again.
This helps shore up the idea that this is some pattern in our life. We start to accept that this is something we should maybe watch out for.
Usually we forget; we don’t watch out. But then:
The next time the pattern shows up again, we still don’t manage to make a change, but sort of while the oops is happening, we half-recognize that this is that pattern we have, and dangit we need to catch it sooner next time.
Maybe we manage to talk to somebody in between instances of our pattern; admit that we have a pattern. Maybe they help us to notice the early warning signs that could alert us to change course.
Still though, we miss the early warning signs and go through the bad pattern again, though this time when we lament our limitations and mistakes, we are very informed about how we should have seen this coming.
Eventually, we’ll have a day, part-way through the pattern, we can roll some of it back; we take some of our metaphorical foot off of the accelerator and there’s not as much momentum as there usually is. We screwed up, but we made it less-awful part-way through.
By this point, it’s a tormenting statement about our character.
We’re on the hunt.
We acknowledge that we know the early warning signs that we’re about to do a dumb, and one day, we manage to notice in time that we’re heading for disaster, and before we apply our dysfunction to the situation, we just cut our losses and get the hell out.
We have one-time managed to avoid some terrible unwanted thing that we usually keep recreating in our life.
Now try forcing someone to do that. I’ve never seen it happen.
To change requires so much work and so much facing the mistakes we’ve made, that it is inconceivable to me that we will ever manage to force change on someone who is not inclined to do all that work.
Each one of those instances left out a step that would have happened every time:
Don’t. Choose. Denial.
If you want to make a change, the first thing you have to do is admit:
Well that’s not what I wanted.
2. It’s Not YOU Who Hates Yourself
How common is it, that a person loses an argument with themselves?
We know what we want ourselves to do.
Why don’t we do it?
Why do we seem to have something inside of us that fights us?
It has been my experience that if you want to win a fight against yourself, you have to stop modeling the situation as if it was really “you” vs “you.”
Who’s really in there?
Is it you vs yourself?
Do you fight with and hate yourself?
I think it’s more likely that we have learned to internalize and amalgamate all of the people we are scared of into one generalized blob that we think of as some protective part of ourself.
I think that’s what’s going on when a person is “fighting with themselves,” or “hating themselves.”
We’re fighting all of the people who took a vested interest in our life and our choices.
We’re hated by all of the people who took a vested interest in our life and our choices, who are now (we imagine) disappointed that we did not measure up.
We were a ‘bad investment’ and we must be punished for our failings.
What’s worse is, to fight this fight, to, “quarrel with ourselves,” is usually treated as if it were some altruistic activity.
Beating up on ourselves feels like we’re being productive; we’re holding ourselves to a higher standard so that we can measure up.
What I’ve really seen though is that we’re holding ourselves to high standards so that we can justify the high standards we want to hold everyone else to.
3. Shouldn’t Everyone Do Better?
It’s a scary thing, to determine to leave everyone else alone and get right with yourself first.
The world is chaotic and there are some definite bad actors out there who delight in upheaval. (Though I find them to be few and far between. It’s just that those who do want to muck with life are very good at it in an era where any person can have tremendous reach.)
How do you manage to stop policing the world when it’s so clear that the world is out of order?
Forgiveness is one of the hardest skills there is to learn.
It’s one of the skills that you cannot work on directly.
Forgiveness requires you to work on your worldview and start to realize how feeble we are in all of this living of life.
Play a game of Minecraft, and put yourself out of the main game where you have to search and fight for every block you want to place, and put yourself in Creative Mode where you are given an unlimited palette of blocks to do with as you will. They also let you fly in Creative Mode, so that you are not bound by gravity and reach.
When you play a game where you can create anything you want…
And you still have problems?
That’s when you start to realize how helpless we are, and we live in a world far more complex than a game, but we grade one another as if we surely should be doing far far better by now.
There is a Minecraft project where a group of people got together to use the magic of Minecraft to create a model modern city.
Even with the superpower of placing blocks one on top of each other, with no need for a distribution chain of resources, and no concern for gravity or safety regulations, or disrupting daily life, it still took:
That’s so many people that you would need teams and leaders and meetings.
To do magic.
To make a city out of thin air.
We need forgiveness in the real world, we have no magic, we have constraints a-plenty; it’s a wonder we have four walls to live in.
4. Straight A Student Gets F, Not Sentenced To Death
I once failed a class, on purpose, to prove to myself that I would not die.
Someone dyslexic once told me that they’d have been so proud to have an A- since they were used to getting C’s and maybe B’s but never A’s of any kind.
It had been a conversation about one of her students who got an A- and was inconsolable about it.
I tried my best to explain that A students are not seeking excellence; A students are terrified of failure and punishment and are trying to get everything right so that they will not have to worry about retribution for their failings.
To paraphrase my therapist from when I was in school, “Noah, no one cares that much about their homework…”
He was my therapist for a few years after I’d graduated school, and I had gotten old enough for him to explain to me some of the concepts that were too difficult for my small brain those years prior.
A students are running from something, he explained.
We’d worked a long time, and he was able to help me understand what I was running from.
Understanding what I was running from and no longer feeling the need to run are two separate things sadly. I still am quite scared a great deal of the time.
But at least I know I’m not scared of myself, I’m scared of people. I’ve internalized all the people who can get disappointed in me for not measuring up to the standards that would have made their life perfect.
I’m scared of disappointing people. I’m scared of letting people down.
Failing a class on purpose was my way of showing myself that no one would show up to execute me for my disappointing performance.
And no one did show up to execute me. That’s how I’m still alive, here now, writing this article to you.
5. They Will Not Do Better. What Will You Do?
Forgiveness comes not from a desire to, “be a good person,” or to keep society running.
Forgiveness is logical, once you understand the demands we put on one another, and how unrealistic they are.
It would be nice if forgiveness was about people making a change for the better, but the people equipped to make real change are few and far between.
That means that if you want to understand forgiveness, it cannot be a conditional forgiveness, given out for those who pleased you finally, those who make amends.
Most will not make amends.
If you wait until everyone who has wronged you wises up to what shitheels they were, you will live your life in bitterness.
And bitterness is taking a poison in hopes that it will kill your enemy, as I once heard on the TV show Boss.
When we make efforts to not-forgive, to withhold our understanding of another, it costs us.
To believe that bitterness is free, is foolish.
You are paying for your bitterness, the same way a person pays for a streaming service they don’t use.
It costs you to not-forgive.
But you cannot directly forgive, that’s not true forgiveness.
The act of forgiveness, is to remember how much work it is to change.
You’re someone who makes changes, because you’re reading a blog that is about change. The people who cannot change are those who take in no new information and so they are woefully under-equipped for any change they might make and that is why they continuously fail to change, even if they want to change.
The act of forgiveness, is to take ourselves out of the role of one who exists to be pleased by others, and we return ourselves to someone who is here, learning and experimenting and trying stuff out.
And we remember that anyone we might meet is similarly as experimental as we are.
6. A Person Is Not Some Character In Your Story.
“You complete me.” “It’s like we were made for each other.” -Characters. Fictional representations of people who were literally created for each other, to complete one another.
Journeys end in lovers meeting, sayeth Shakespeare.
And that is true, so long as we’re talking about characters.
I’ve spent time in the romance genre trying to create characters who will fall in love.
Characters, as Rantazmo says, are a collection of choices made by the author.
When I am taking to characters and trying to figure out how to make them love one another, I am tweaking and altering the choices I’ve made about them, until they match up together very very well.
We have doused ourselves in stories.
And stories can do a lot of good; stories provide emotions and catharsis and distractions and fantasy that we cannot reach nearly any other way.
Story is good.
But in experiencing so much story, there is sometimes a societal disconnect between understanding that the justice we see delivered in a movie or a tv show or a book, is not what justice will look like in real life.
In a story, the villains are created to be captured and thwarted and sent to justice.
The justice and the villain complete the story.
In real life, most good comes not from locking away the villains we think we see, but from increasing capacity for what good we can do.
Edison didn’t vanquish a foe to get us all strung up to electrical wires so that we could live our lives alongside the convenience of electricity.
The roads weren’t paved because we defeated some tree-demon who was jockeying for dirt roads.
Progress comes because we build ourselves stronger, and we share our knowledge, and we work together.
Necessity is the mother of invention, and our progress comes because we find new ways to navigate this eternally incomplete world.
Almost nothing here was made just for us. Certainly no persons were made for us; persons are not characters.
So if you want to learn forgiveness, you must understand that we live in a messy non-story world, where almost everyone is trying their best, and basically everyone you meet is incompetent and underskilled for the life they lead.
Everyone will let you down.
7. Enlightenment, For Like A Few Seconds
The point of unconditional love and unconditional forgiveness, is not for the recipient of that love or forgiveness.
The point of these strategies is to acknowledge how much energy we deplete waiting for people to live up to our hopes.
People will let you down.
That’s not because they’re bad; it’s because they’re not characters.
If you want people who deliver, go watch a movie.
Hell, help my industry out, go play a game; games are notorious for this.
If you’re the main character, the player character, of a video game? Oh my goodness are the people there made for you.
I have a colleague and we host meetings specifically on how can we make the characters in games more pleasant to interact with. Not a year goes by without us harkening back to a specific NPC we both hate, a non-player character in a game, who is rude to you every time you go to upgrade your gun. We hate that; make your characters treat the player well: it is the only place they’re likely to be treated well today.
When we ask other humans to be magical characters who live for our benefit, we are going to be let down.
When we withhold our love for those people until they measure up to our unrealistic expectations, then we clench and wall off, when we could live a much more natural life.
I was once taught a trick for the feeling of enlightenment, and I’ve found this to work.
You go outside, some place safe, don’t do this on a hill (I live on a hill).
Throw your keys up into the air, and then catch them.
Your keys are important, and also they are metal and you don’t want them to bonk you on the head (obviously don’t do this if your keys could cause real harm to you if they do bonk you, and don’t do this if you just live somewhere you could lose your keys if you miss catching them, like a hill).
The moment where you are focused on catching your keys, that’s the moment that you have sent all of your focus to one simple and accomplishable task, and in that moment, you will hold no grudge toward yourself or anyone, because you are too busy sending all of your energy into a useful action.
Enlightenment is not a ball of glowing light, nor is it harps, it’s just the feeling of your emotional crap falling away so that you can perform your life with your full focus.
Catch your keys, and you no longer have any need to send your grudges and disappointments away.
They will come back.
But now you’ll know, relief from your problems exists.
It might be enough to convince you of the merits of giving humanity a break, and focusing less on the punishments you want to dole out, and more on what you can actually do.
I think most people are lousy teachers.
It takes so much effort to teach.
Teaching is not just knowing stuff, and speaking.
Teaching is about finding the overlap of someone who is asking a question and you having a clear answer.
Teaching is about helping a person with their next step. But you also cannot come from a basis of, “Oh fuck it let me just do it for you.”
Teaching is about the trust that there are people who are in a place to be curious, and that the answers you know can have value to those who have that matching question.
If you’re going to teach, if you’re going to help the world, you have to put in a lot of effort to a lot of different skills.
Forgiveness, unconditional forgiveness, is the act of pulling your attention away from those you hate, and pulling your attention onto the things you still need to do if you’re going to help those you’d love to help.
The best apology gift someone can give you is a change in the behavior that messed things up in the first place;
But you can give yourself the gift, now, of no longer giving a fuck what other people did in your life, and instead focusing on the alleviation and relief that comes with taking actions on the things that actually help.
Find out who you are. Clarify what you know. Find people who are ready for help. Make your help available.
You’ll offset the balance of bullshit in the world for the better.
And this way, you’re not waiting around for someone else to take the actions of change; it gives control back to you.