Public Enemy

“Mistakes are a part of being human. Appreciate your mistakes for what they are: precious life lessons that can only be learned the hard way. Unless it’s a fatal mistake, which, at least, others can learn from.”  –Al Franken

“If you don’t have enemies, you’re doing nothing worthwhile.” So went a response to a blog post I read recently, written in reference to another blogger who had apparently gotten himself into some trouble. I can no longer remember what the dustup was about, or which side appeared to be on the right side of the argument. But the whole scene – and especially the above statement – got me thinking.

While on many occasions this may be true, such a declaration, especially as a blanket catch-all, can be extremely misleading. More often than not it is a simple cover up for bad behavior – an excuse. People use it either when they’re being just plain stupid or absolutely insensitive or nasty to those around them, and they just fail to control themselves sufficiently to avoid a heated difference of opinion.

It’s true that when you get into a public forum and do or say something that will get people talking about you, it will at times draw out unwarranted criticism. But it is also often a simple fact that you get the exact reaction you asked for and deserve (not always the one you wanted, but definitely the one you asked for by your behavior).

“ Experience is that marvelous thing that enables you to recognize a mistake when you make it again.” – Franklin P. Jones

I’ve watched people using such a rationale for excusing themselves from behavior which brought them criticism. Probably even have done it myself a time or two.

You’ll hear some form of: “Oh well, you can’t get love from everybody,” when they know full well that the negative reaction received was due wholly or in large part to their own repulsive or harmful actions or reactions. It’s a pretty weak excuse for negative behavior.

Naturally, humans being what we are, we cover bad behavior with more bad behavior – we obfuscate, and if that doesn’t work we make excuses. If that doesn’t bring the desired result we lie outright. (Is it any wonder there are so many words for lying in the English language – dissembling, untruth, mendacity, misleading statement, falsehood, dishonesty, deceit, fabrication, invention, tale, fib – need I go on?).

“Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.”  -Albert Einstein

Let’s bring it home: We’ve all known building support workers just like this, haven’t we? Maybe even some supers?

Impetuous behavior or a reaction that’s out of kilter to the situation and off-the-charts, an insensitive criticism at high decibel, a downright idiotic comment, all will bring a swift and negative reaction to those listening to what is being said or reading what was written, and suddenly the overwhelming urge to defend their own stupidity is keenly felt.

What usually happens is an initial thrashing around for a good defense, but since there is no truly good defense for bad behavior, all that can be mustered is something along the lines of: I’ve been mischaracterized, I’ve been victimized, I’m being picked on because I’ve always been this way (what – an insensitive jerk?!) – it’s just the way I am, there’s nothing I can do about it – take me or leave me.

Or, you’re reading me wrong because I’m a woman (or other minority), or I have too little education, or I meant something totally different from how it was taken; I’ve been misunderstood.

“Yes, we love peace, but we are not willing to take wounds for it, as we are for war.” –John Andrew Holmes

That is not to say that now and then there isn’t a real misunderstanding. Of course it happens. On occasion there is even the simple explanation that someone may have said something in the heat of the moment that he later regrets. Which means that now there should at least be an apology for the tone, yet many times we can’t bring ourselves to do so.

We’ve all found ourselves in that spot. It’s a simple fact of human nature that sometimes we get worked up and emotional and say things that, as the over-wrought emotions cool, we come to regret.

Now the question is, how do I make it right, how does one go about smoothing things over? Do I say, that’s not what I really meant, I meant this instead of that, when everyone around you knows you’re now lying to cover up your bad behavior? Do I say, I was totally misunderstood, my words have been twisted? Even the average person can see right through such dodgy footwork.

“Sometimes when we are generous in small, barely detectable ways it can change someone else’s life forever.  -Margaret Cho

Quite often the absolute best thing to do, but still the hardest by far, is simply to say, “Look I reacted excessively. I’m sorry. My behavior was wrong. Please forgive me.”

It is extremely hard to do, and doesn’t get much easier with practice. (Humility is easiest accomplished in small doses.)

But sometimes such a fresh start is all we need to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, walk away grinning and sensing real peace within ourselves. And with new resolve, new purpose in our spirits. There are times when it can make all the difference.

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