Back in the day I used to have a paper route. You don’t see so much of it anymore, but prior to the internet everybody used to have the newspaper delivered daily to their door. Sections were then divvied up amongst the household readers, with dad having dibs on priority reads like sports. In my case, I went straight for the comics and advice columns. First there was Dear Abby and her twin sister Ann, doling out general counsel to readers who were stumped. Next, Heloise for household hints, and Miss Manners and Emily Post for proper etiquette. Reader-submitted questions were sometimes serious/sometimes comical, but the columnists offered up their best advice-(usually captain obvious)-but occasionally queries were met accidentally with an actual dose of helpful counsel!
Fast forward to 2016, and everything’s online. So advice columnists have sort of gone by the wayside. Especially since everybody shares and over-shares. Everybody’s got an opinion on everything, most of them just chatter-no real substance. Social media makes me miss the old newspaper days. That was my thinking awhile back when I clicked on a Washington Post link to read a Carolyn Hax column. She’s a bright penny in the columnist world-even poking fun at her own credentials. She has no counseling experience, no psychology degree, her real-life ex draws a little illustration accompanying her column, and yet somehow it all works.
I wasn’t seeking counsel that day, purely entertainment, but I learned something from her column anyway. Turns out, it was something I wish I would’ve learned earlier so that I could’ve applied it better in my own life, and taught it in a more succinct way to my children.
A reader had written in with a complaint that a person she had confided in had promptly spilled the beans to another, and had then in self-defense commented…”But I didn’t mean to…” thinking that this was a sufficient “I’m sorry,” to offset her error. But nobody was feeling better after that.
Well, who hasn’t been there? In both positions, offender and offended. Sadly, I was reminded of the many times in my life when I, or someone else-(much more common 😉 )- have uttered the exact same thing. “I didn’t mean to” or the ever popular, “I wasn’t trying to.” To which I snappily retort, “You’re right! You weren’t trying, etc., etc.,” ranting on, thinking that is a real gem of an answer.
But that day I learned a better way. A commenter wrote in that her father had a wise answer for the “I didn’t mean to/wasn’t trying to” defense. She shared that her dad would tell his children, “The point of the thing is-that you didn’t mean NOT to, or weren’t trying NOT to do it.”
Eureka! I had a moment there.
One simple word changes the whole lesson. The simple insertion of the word not, and it becomes a course correction. Teaching accountability, versus shaming or encouraging additional lame excuses. Our actions have consequences, period. We are choosing TO do or we are choosing NOT to do. Intentionally. It’s an action, not an oops.
With a sinking feeling, I realized that in the past I had short-changed others and myself with those same excuses. While everyone makes mistakes, isn’t the point of mistakes to learn, grow, and evolve? With the… “I didn’t mean to/wasn’t trying to…” cop out, I wasn’t learning, growing or evolving. I was simply letting myself off the hook accountability-wise, and others too. It’s an easy way out, but nothing gets fixed or changed, and neither excuser nor excused has gained a thing. Except maybe a rift in the relationship. That’s no way to be! I guess I must finally be a grown-up because I’m actually glad my actions have consequences, good and bad, so that I’m being and becoming. Cue light bulb.
So…moral of the story? Read advice columnists when you need answers to life’s most perplexing problems. Basically, if I’d been paying attention, Yoda had it right all along…”Do. Or do not. There is no try.” Either way, unintentionally, I learned a lesson about living intentionally. And that’s good news.
Live less out of habit, and more out of intent 🍋
~ Author Unknown