It’s one of my worst traits. It’s also one of my biggest failings.
And it’s something I’ve been working on and dealing with for nearly 55 years.
And by talking about it in the blog today, I’m hoping that I also shine a light on this problem – and if you’re either suffering from this failing, or know someone who is afflicted with this issue, that you understand.
Over my lifetime, I’ve dealt with a very reactive temper. Push me hard enough, push me long enough, tease me, taunt me, and I lash out.
It’s not anything I’m proud of. In fact, it’s something I’ve grown ashamed of. There have been too many times where I’ve acted before I’ve thought. Or I’ve acted with a minimum of evidence.
I can blame this on a number of factors – surviving child abuse and bullying, being a social misfit and outcast growing up, a dozen different causes for a thousand different effects.
But I can’t go back in time and repair those moments to fix my own.
You can say to me, “Hey Chuck, we all make mistakes, forgive and forget.”
Not for me. It doesn’t work that way.
For me, my mistakes in action are like broken plates. Once they’re broken, you can’t just magically put them back together as if nothing happened. The only thing you can do is ask for forgiveness and hope that the other party is receptive in forgiving.
And if they’re not … well, you can’t just say “it’s on them.” Because they didn’t break the plate. You did.
Maybe it’s self-flagellation or self-deprecation, I don’t know.
But more often than not, I look back at my life and I see times where I over-reacted to bad things in my life. Where I lashed out when people said horrible, miserable things about me. Similar to when a dog is beaten by a cruel master, sometimes the dog lashes out with a bark or a bite.
The tough part about these moments is that I want to go back in time. I want to erase my mistakes. I want to undo when I’ve wronged people. And I can’t. I can’t undo my past any more than I can undo the damage that has been pushed upon me.
All I can do is try to learn from my mistakes and become a better person going forward. That’s not always the easiest thing to do. But you hope that in trying to fix what is broken, in trying to repair what is damaged in the present, you’re able to show penitence and reticence.
You can ask for forgiveness, but forgiveness isn’t a mandate. It must be earned. It can’t just be handed to you like a rebate for submitting three “I’m sorry” box tops.
So what can you do when you’ve screwed up?
What can you do to regain the trust of those you’ve wronged?
You do whatever it takes. You work on the reasons for your mistake, and you show – in your words and in your deeds and in your actions – that you’ve learned from your failures.
And you do this without any hope that “If I do this, they’ll forgive me.”
You have to do this with the idea of “If I do this, then maybe at some point in time, I can forgive myself for allowing myself to make those mistakes in the first place.”
We all make mistakes. Every single one of us.
How we react after those mistakes – how we show that we are penitent and remorseful and how we truly want to get better –
That’s the important factor. And we may never receive that forgiveness…
But we always have to try, if for no other reason than to acknowledge that we can do better than what we’ve done.
We can always do better.
And we should.
And we must.
So I’m starting with me. I’m working on my own personal failings and errors. I’m going to stumble. I’m going to screw up. But I’m still trying.
And hopefully, someday…
I’ll be in a better place and in a better emotional and psychological frame.
I’m not perfect, by any means or by any stretch of the imagination.
That being said … I can’t guide my life by my mistakes.
I have to guide my life by making myself better than those mistakes, whether they were thrust upon me, or whether I caused those errors myself.
One step forward.
Every step forward hopefully will allow me to walk away from the past.
And in walking away from the past, I hope to walk away from my reactions to those moments.
One step forward.