MUSSAR LESSON WATCHFULLNESS: A Lesson I Need To Work On

The other night, an acquaintance accused me of being a controlling person. I thought about their accusation, and after carefully examining my motivations and reviewing my actions decided they were wrong. I’m not controlling. I never like or have any intention to dominate other people. Actually, I have a hard time with authority. I even have difficulty asserting my own authority. I find it almost impossible to be self-righteous, and am rarely judgmental in exchanges with others. I tend to see my own flaws too well.

I am however, sometimes too spontaneous and childishly enthusiastic. I speak or move forward without fully assessing a situation. I am inclined to step forth without first looking at the literal, or proverbial ground I step upon. As a result I can trip myself up, falling over some unobserved object, or metaphorically put my foot in my mouth. I can speak out of turn, misspeak, or interrupt the other. In the instance with my accuser, the wrong I had inadvertently committed involved my lack of awareness of what was wanted or expected in a particular situation. It was a misunderstanding. One that most people would have forgiven after a brief apology, as no big deal. However, for this particular person, it was a big deal and I had committed an unforgivable act.

Although I repeatedly apologized and in all sincerity, begged forgiveness, saying, “I’m so sorry. I never meant to cause you any harm or pain. My intent was actually the opposite of that. Is there anything I can do to make amends? I feel terrible to have hurt you. ” Each time I reached out to comfort or make amends, I was rebuffed and severely reprimanded, “How can I forgive you? You are, making it about you. It’s not about you! It’s about me! I am hurt and you just want to make it about you! Just leave me alone!” So I finally gave up.

On my drive home I asked myself: “Is it really all about me when I ask forgiveness for having unintentionally hurt someone?” After turning the question over and over in my mind. I concluded: Sensing the other’s pain (or at least a portion of it) makes me feel terrible. My heart aches because I cannot relieve all the suffering I see. Because I over-empathize, I hate to hurt people and feel I am a terrible person if I cause another to suffer. Even if I’m not the cause, it is very hard to see anyone suffer. And so perhaps this person is right. May be it is about me. Because when I can help heal a hurt I’ve caused, or even one I haven’t, I feel happy. If I can heal someone’s heart, or spread joy or happiness, it gives me pleasure. So since it brings joy into my own life is in a sense, selfish.

Yet, taking this into account, it is impossible for me to believe that any acts of kindness or compassion don’t have a possibly self-serving or self-preserving side. I can’t think of one act of total altruism. Even those who sacrifice their lives for another or a cause, on some level act spontaneously because it’s for someone they love, or they are motivated by the experience of connecting to their life’s higher purpose, the need for meaning. But, never having done this, I can’t be sure.

So in the end, I decided: This person was both right and wrong. It was and wasn’t “all about me.” If this person wants to cling to their anger, pain, and suffering. If they want to continue to feed whatever story they are projecting on me, there is nothing I can do to counter, heal or stop them. I released my desire to help, or make amends and left. They will or won’t work out whatever they need to on their own