“It’s simple: When you haven’t forgiven those who’ve hurt you, you turn your back against your future. When you do forgive, you start walking forward.” — Tyler Perry
I was startled yesterday to hear from a bright, young gay friend that recently he’d been receiving some particularly nasty hate mail from an anonymous source claiming to know him well. The emails had been escalating in their nastiness, going from calling him a faggot to accusing him of all sorts of lewd acts. “I don’t trust a damn soul,” he wrote online. Now I have an agreement to do what I can to build the leaders of the 21st century, so stop the presses, we gotta talk. I especially love to work with the young gay folks who will one day be taking care of me when my partner/wife and I will be at the Queens location of the Ellen DeGeneres Retirement Home for Aging Lesbians. I want them to have a better experience than what I did when I came out in the mid 1990’s. After getting the details of what had been happening with my handsome friend, basically a lot of character assassination, I shared with him how I saw the situation. “You can look at this situation as an opportunity to develop your muscle for being unstoppable in getting the things you want out of life,” I said, more or less. “You can either let this bring you down, or you can just say ‘Thanks for your opinion. Got it.’ and go on.” Really all I did was hold up a mirror for him to see his own power again. I helped him get out of the stands and back onto the court of life where he belongs.
After getting off the phone, I suddenly remembered an incident about an anonymous letter I got in the mid 1990’s when I was in graduate school. It contained a weight loss flyer with some obnoxious comments written in the margin about my large ass and about how much I “needed” to buy this particular cheap, off-brand weight loss product. I remember feeling humiliated and ashamed, but mostly I remember feeling angry that I’d never know who sent the letter. He or she would never get the comeuppance I had in store for them.
Now that I’m 41 I see so many situations from my past differently, especially that whole weight loss letter incident. What happened was I had a leadership coach a few years back who had me see that I was nobody’s victim in life. How did he achieve this near impossible feat? By holding up a mirror to me that had me see that I could be just as nasty to people as my anonymous letter writer. Instead of writing anonymous letters I cut people off at the knees in conversation or talked about them behind their back relentlessly.
“Julia,” he said, “You need to get that your mouth can be like a machine gun. Sometimes like a RPG launcher. You spray bullets indiscriminately and you don’t realize who you’ve hit in the crossfire. Your opinions are just that – opinions. They’re not the truth. Even your opinions have opinions about how right you think you are. Don’t believe me? Go back and interview people from your past and find out for yourself.”
I was furious when he gave me that assignment. What did he mean? I WAS A NICE PERSON, DAMMIT! However, it was an assignment I chose to complete. Lo and behold, after some honest conversations with friends and former co-workers who had the guts to be straight with me, I had to admit he was right. I wasn’t nearly as nice of a person as I’d claimed to be. You aren’t either, by the way. When I told him what I’d found out about the bad taste I sometimes left in others’ mouths he asked, “Now that you know this about yourself, what are you going to do with this knowledge?”
Here’s my answer. I took responsibility for my own power. I went back and apologized to a few former bosses, friends and co-workers. It wasn’t easy to hear how I’d hurt people when I said x, y or z. It was painful to realize that my reputation for being snarky behind other people’s backs diminished how people saw me. I cried big tears, often with the very same people I’d hurt. What I learned was that there was so much for me to gain by rebuilding those bridges. I’m a much better leader of people for doing it. When I create the environment for a friend to really tell me what they think and feel there’s no more need for fakery. No one need ever again send me an anonymous letter spewing bile at me because they’re afraid to tell me something to my face. If someone has an issue with me I know how to create a space for them to tell me what they need to say without fear that I’ll take their head off. I don’t have to agree with everyone, but I do choose to honor people’s dignity. I now get that I am 100% responsible for my own happiness. I’m too strong of a person to have it be any other way. You, too, are just as strong, by the way.
With that realization comes the responsibility for every word that comes out of my mouth for the rest of my life. Now I’m not perfect. Sometimes I get in knee-jerk reaction mode and I can slime people. Truth be told I’m always gonna think that snarky comedians like Kathy Griffin are hilarious. What’s different now is that when I stumble I have the tools to pick myself up and check on other people to see if I hurt them on my way down into the mud. In spite of my still-large ass I’m not too big to apologize to people when I need to. If you know me and there’s something for which you’d like an apology I’m open to the conversation. You can email me at unreasonablewoman at gmail.com. Let’s talk.
Follow me on Twitter @unreasonablew.