I've been working on something called "awareness" and "sensitivity" for the past two years now. The truth is, I happen to be a person who is fairly immune to most slights--real or perceived. I can take quite a good bit of constructive criticism with no ill effects. I can even sit by and listen to mean-spirited attack and generally not be any worse for the wear. We won't go into how I got this way. Suffice it to say, it's a character trait that comes in really, really handy when you're submitting your personal, written work for review.
It's not such a charming attribute when it comes to inter-personal relationships. The upshot is that as one who can take the heat, so to speak, I can also dish that self-same heat. I can be absolutely brutally honest with people and really (honestly!) not pick up on how I have just walked all over their feelings. I can state my opinion and expect people to take it or leave it without feeling judged, just as I would. And I can chime in with my two cents worth at very bad times. Sound like someone you want to befriend? Probably not.
The Lord has been working with me on this. How? He put into my life not one, but two, people who are at the exact opposite ends of the awareness and sensitivity spectrum from me. The first is my cousin, who has known me since ... well, birth. Before birth actually, because she's older. ;-) Anyhow, she will freely admit that she has a tender heart. The benefit to that is that she is among the most empathetic and gentle people I know. The other is my good friend J., whose voice I have never heard go much above "library" setting. She is so thoughtful of others that she will avoid even the merest hint of possibly trading on their feelings. Both of these women are very dear to me. I share my deepest soul with them. I love them.
You know where this is going, right?
Yes, I stomp on them all the time. Unintentionally, mind you. But stomp I do. And until fairly recently, I have been clueless. The conversation would just suddenly shift, or the visit was over and there I was, not even aware that they were bruised by my ungainly advice and statements. Of course, they very rarely ever brought up the slights because ... well, they are too sensitive to point out that they were hurt. Who knows how many of these little hurts piled up over the years, unacknowledged? I really couldn't tell you.
I have been picking up on them much more recently. While I have yet to learn to control my tongue, at least I am seeing the way my words have affected other people when they fly from my mouth. And while I'll never be one of those people who has nothing to say but sugar and spice (I just don't believe God made me that way) at the very least, I can be someone who says she's sorry.
This week I've had the chance to apologize twice, once to each of my sisters-of-the-heart. When I realized how callously I had bandied my own opinions about, I felt horribly. How could I have missed their reactions in the past? The lack of eye contact? The long pause? The rush to fill in the conversation with something, anything else? How self-centered I have been for the past, oh ... 32 years?
Humble pie never tastes good. But at least I smelled it baking this time.