Once a week, I carpool the neighborhood kids to middle school down the mountain. No matter which parent is driving them, they have a morning ritual of listening to a radio show where the DJ makes a prank phone call.
This morning, the trick call was to a kindergarten art teacher. The radio man was pretending to be a parent to an upset five-year-old who was at home crying his eyes out over something the art teacher said about his work. Supposedly, the art teacher had commented on the child’s house drawing with, “Nice truck.” So, the prankster was blaming the art teacher for crushing the kid’s confidence. Of course, he was provoking the art teacher in order to get an entertaining show. But, I am always amazed at how people react to these prank calls. The art teacher never once asked a question to clarify why the kid was upset, or offered his sympathy to the parent or child for their emotional distress, or said he was sorry. He was annoyed that the kid could be so upset over his random remark. He couldn’t believe the parent was calling him about something he thought was trivial. He blew up out of proportion to the first bit, so the prankster knew he had a good mark, and kept irritating him with other nonsense. At the end of the call, we find out that the art teacher’s girlfriend had set him up because he had been frustrated with parents recently. I know parents can be frustrating, but it made me wonder how much of the problem was this guy’s inability to understand another person’s viewpoint? He was way too defensive. And angry.
It’s just a random comment, right? I didn’t even mean it that way. What is wrong with you to let something so little bother you? Its not my problem, its yours.
I cause problems. We all do.
I’ve been making apologies since I was a middle-schooler myself. I grew up in the deep South of the United States, and I was always upsetting someone with my mouth or thoughtless actions. I learned early that a person who does not look upset, or treat you like they are mad at you, might actually be very angry with you. They just won’t let it show. They’ll tell everyone else about whatever it is you did, but you have to wait for the word of mouth to reach you before you even know something is wrong.
Then what do you do?
Well, some people would just ignore it, and a big rift develops. Some of these feuds go on for years until people forget whatever the first incident was. They just know they don’t like each other.
My mother never let me do that.
When she heard through the grapevine that I had done something or said something that got someone upset, she made me call or chat with that person and apologize. She even gave me lessons on how to do it right. It didn’t matter to her if I was in the right or not. I had to face the problem, take responsibility for my actions and say I was sorry. She made me do this to adults, not just kids. It was agonizing.
But, I’m thankful I had so much practice learning to apologize, because it is a skill I’ve used again and again. I cause other people pain, confusion and worry sometimes, and I am truly sorry for that! Never mind that I didn’t intend to hurt them – I do hurt them. Psalm 51:3 says that “my sin is ever before me.” We all need more humility to realize we hurt others. Why wouldn’t we be sorry for that?
Practice your reactions before you need to react to an accusation.
Like that prank call this morning on the radio show, sometimes when people accuse us of something, it takes us by surprise. This will happen to everyone at some time, but hopefully you won’t be recorded for all to hear! So consider. Is your reaction to immediately defend yourself or to attack the accuser or to get angry? Wrong reaction.
- Everyone should be quick to listen. But they should be slow to speak. They should be slow to get angry. (NIRV James 1:19)
Good reaction: Listen to the entire problem, and follow up with questions to clarify.
- Wise men and women are always learning, always listening for fresh insights. (The Message Prov. 18:15)
Good reaction: Consider what they are going through, not just the problems they are causing you.
- Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. (NIRV Phil. 2:4)
Good reaction: It never hurts to say you’re sorry. There is always something you can be sorry for in every situation where someone is hurt.
Even when we are accused of something we don’t think we did, if we practice these reactions before we need them, then we diffuse the emotional stress instead of escalating it into a bigger problem. Reacting with listening, seeking to understand and apologies doesn’t make for good entertainment on a radio show, but it will give you a more peace-filled life!
Say you’re sorry.
This morning, after the prank call was done, this comment came from the kids in back seat.
“He never said he was sorry.”
Yep, the kids got it. You hurt someone, you say you’re sorry.