So I was talking with Phil about something the other day, and then a similar situation occurred today and I got all Baader-Meinhoffy and decided to write it down. (If you feel like you’ve seen someone mention Baader-Meinhof recently, guess what? It’s happening to you.)
To tell this story, I have to admit to doing something stupid. Okay, several stupid things. First, last year, there was a whole thing, and for a list of reasonable yet pretty indefensible reasons, Phil and I started smoking again. He’s already quit and I smoke maybe two or three a day, so the end is in sight (well, the end has passed for Phil but you know I prefer to look at things from a me-centric point of view, it just works best for me). Anyway. That’s one of the stupid things. Should not have done that. The second stupid thing happened this morning. I was getting ready for work – and morning in our house is kind of a hustle, with 2/3 of us sleeping until the last possible second we can sleep and the rest being Phil who gets up early probably to just get a damn minute without us ladies up in his face with all our talking – and I’m not saying that like, haha, isn’t it funny how much women talk? No, I’m talking about me and Penny specifically. The number of words being flung into Phil’s head at any given waking moment are incalculable. So yeah maybe that’s why he gets up at 4am, because our damn mouths are shut for a damn second.
So we rush around a bit in the morning, we being me, because I leave myself no time, and for some reason today, I kept thinking my backpack was on the chair where it sometimes is, but it wasn’t my backpack, it was Penny’s. And I kept putting things into “my” backpack and then looking down and seeing, like, my phone nestled sweetly beside an R2-D2 thermos. And I’d take my stuff out and move it to my backpack, in the other room, and then putting something else in there a minute later. So I’m sure you can see where this is going, and on my lunch break – which I take at 9am because that’s life and I’m very hungry right now – I had to call Penny’s school and tell them what I had maybe done, and could they please go check, and yeah if you find them go ahead and throw them away and I’ll call it a stupid tax.
Anyway, I came home and I found them on the table, so that was fine, but what was interesting – to me, I don’t know about you – was how the woman on the phone reacted. She was taken aback, I definitely got the impression that this was not a common sort of phone call to get, and I apologized a bunch, and she said she’d handle it and thanks for the call. But what she didn’t say was anything like, “oh, it’s okay,” or “these things happen,” or “don’t worry about it.” And maybe I wouldn’t have noticed that if I hadn’t recently had this conversation with Phil.
The other night he and I were talking about a mistake someone had made, one they feel bad about, and while he’s not one to flip out on someone, he wasn’t really thrilled about it. And we were talking about how when this person apologized again, as he would surely do, maybe Phil should resist the urge to say, “it’s okay.” Because you know, we all have that urge, right? Someone does something against us – not, like, murder, but something minor – and the reflex is to say, “it’s okay,” so that they don’t feel as bad. You’re the one wronged (“wronged,” you know the type of thing I’m talking about here), and your immediate response is to alleviate some of the upset the other person is feeling.
And you know, a lot of times, that’s totally fine. Sometimes someone spills something in the coffee shop, and I say, “that’s ok! Don’t worry about it!” And they shouldn’t worry about it! It is okay! One, those things happen, and two, part of my job is to clean shit up. I am zero percent bothered by the little accident you just had, and I want you to know that you really shouldn’t be bothered at all, either. But then, say, some kind of different situation occurs – like you’re acting like a jackass and you knock a whole row of drinks off my counter and all over the floor, as a direct result of your jackassy behavior. Of course I will clean it and it will be fine, and you know, I might still say, “it’s okay” if you apologize, but you know what? It’s not really okay.
I would say, “it’s okay” as a reflex because I see you feeling bad about what happened and immediately feel it’s now my job to make you not have that discomfort. But when people fuck up, shouldn’t they kind of have some discomfort? I’m not talking about prolonged suffering, or holding a grudge forever or anything like that. I’m saying, why should we say “it’s okay” when it’s not? If a person makes a mistake, as all people do, there should probably be some sort of consequence, because that’s how we learn not to do these things again, right? And a lot of times, the mistake is little and the consequence is little. Like the consequence is just… feeling bad.
I think a lot of people kind of rush to take responsibility for the feelings of others, either by doing something small like saying, “don’t worry about it,” or something big like bending over backward to accommodate someone who is upset by your personal boundaries, making yourself uncomfortable in the process. And that second one, that’s a whole other topic, so forget I said that, but maybe we’ll come back to it sometime in the never future.
Instead of “that’s okay,” you can say things like, “it’s done so let’s move on,” or “I accept your apology,” or, I don’t know, some other things that aren’t coming to mind. And yeah, the person who made the infraction doesn’t get that weight a little bit lifted off their shoulders. They have to sit with that uncomfortable feeling that they’ve upset you, or inconvenience you, or messed something up. And is that so terrible? To make a mistake and then just have to… regret it? Or feel bad about it? I don’t think so.
And obviously I bring this around to my kid because what doesn’t come around to my kid. It’s really tempting to say, “it’s okay” to her when she’s having some kind of big feelings. I just read an article about this, actually (I didn’t read it, that was a lie, I saw it linked somewhere and only read the title, but I assume it said to stop saying “it’s okay” to your kids.) And I should probably stop that. She should just have the feelings. The same is true when she’s disappointed by something – I instantly want to swoop in and fix it, to offer something else for whatever she’s missing, to stop her from having to feel disappointment for a damn second, but that’s not a good path for us all to walk down, is it?
Anyway, I guess what I’m thinking here is that I’m going to stop telling people it’s okay when it’s not. I don’t mean I’m going to sulk, hold grudges, get revenge. I mean I’m going to stop that knee-jerk reaction to lift someone’s [minor] guilt off his shoulders. Because sometimes it’s not actually okay, you know? I put my cigarettes in my kid’s backpack today and sent her to school (I didn’t, actually, but I believed I did). And I called the school and fessed up and the woman on the other end didn’t tell me it was okay, and that’s good, because you know what? It wasn’t. I made a minor but still quite stupid mistake (I didn’t, actually) and it’s not the end of the world that no one made me feel better about that. Why should I feel better about that? It was dumb. I should feel dumb. I did feel dumb! And the world didn’t end because I had to feel dumb for a while.