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Caring, Regret, Change
Last night I was teasing
someone. I wanted to feel superior to her; to show her
that I could do something better than she could. I
forgot, though, about her feelings. She told me that she
didn't like it because it added to her belief that she
was bad at everything and can't do anything well. I felt
a little defensive and thought, "I was just
teasing." I told her that I just wanted to show off
how good I was at it, but that didn't make her feel much
better. She repeated that she didn't like it. Then she
walked away. A few minutes later we talked and she said
she was feeling a little self-destructive. I offered her
a hug, but she was reluctant to accept it. I could see
she felt very bad. I apologized again for teasing her
earlier. This time I felt less defensive and felt more
sincere regret and empathy.
This morning I apologized again to her because I still
felt bad about what I did. She seemed to accept my
apology, saying, "It's ok." This reminds me now
of one of my best teachers, who used to say, "It's
ok, best friend."
I am also reminded of the power of a sincere apology. And
I think of the very important difference between the
words and the feeling. I think of how teachers might
insist that one child apologize to another, yet the first
one feels neither regret nor empathy. This is a good
example that you can force behavior, but not the
This simple truth is the basis of many social problems.
It is so simple, yet it is so often overlooked,
forgotten, or never realized.
Throughout our lives people want us to behave a certain
way. They use many tactics, strategies and methods to get
us to do so. The overwhelming emphasis in psychology has
been on behavior. Behavior modification. Behavioral
therapy. Conditioning. Punishment and rewards.
Behavior is easier to measure, to quantify. One person's
behavior serves another. The behavior of the worker
serves the employer. The behavior of the citizens serve
the rulers and politicians. The behavior of the slave
serves the needs and desires of the master.
An important question to always remember to ask ourselves
is: does the master care about how the slave feels? Does
the boss care how the worker feels? Does the teacher care
how the student feels? Does the parent care how the child
or teen feels?
Getting back to apologies and forgiveness, it is much
easier for a teacher to get one child to apologize to
another, than for her to get the child to really feel bad
for their action. In other words, it is easier to force
the behavior the teacher wants than to force the
feelings. We might say then that in general it is easier
to force behavior than feelings. We might also say it is
easier to control behavior than feelings.
Since it is natural for most humans to do what is easier
and quicker, it makes sense then that so much of human
history and human interaction is based on behavior
control. But what then of feelings? What happens when the
feelings don't match the behavior?
What happens is our emotional needs get neglected on a
massive scale. When needs are not met, problems follow
just as surely as water flows downhill.
Remember that our feelings are indicators of the state of
our emotional needs. When an emotional need is unmet, our
bodies send us a signal, just as when we are hungry, our
bodies alert us. When emotional needs are unmet we feel
dissatisfied, frustrated, discontent. When our emotional
needs are filled, we feel content, satisfied, good.
Of course there are many more specific feelings. We have
identified over 1,000 words to describe negative feelings
alone. But the point of this article is to serve as a
reminder of these five things:
1. Sincere apologies
are very powerful.
2. Sincere apologies arise from sincere feelings.
3. While behavior can be forced, sincere feelings,
and therefore, sincerity itself, can not.
4. When behavior is controlled without regard for the
underlying feelings, emotional needs get neglected.
5. When emotional needs are not met, personal and
social problems quickly follow.
Core Components of
Intelligence | Empathy
Emotional Abuse | Understanding
Literacy | Feeling Words
Respect | Parenting | Caring
Listening | Invalidation | Hugs
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