Forgiveness…sort of…

by Denise

Friend 1:  You know, I have something that I really need to get off my chest.  You kind of hurt my feelings the other day when I told you I needed help and you brushed me off, saying you were too busy.

Friend 2:  I didn’t know that hurt your feelings.  I would never try to hurt your feelings…

Friend 1:  Yeah, I know.  It’s just that I would have thought that you’d make time if you saw I needed help.  I wouldn’t have asked if it weren’t important.

Friend 2:  I guess like I said, I wouldn’t intentionally hurt you, I was just really busy.

Friend 1:  I guess I can understand that…

Friend 2:  I mean, I have a lot going on right now.

Friend 1:  Yeah…

Friend 2:  So we’re cool?

Friend 1:  Sure.

Are things cool between these two friends?  Not really.  Things have been smoothed over, but there is still a crack beneath the surface.  Let’s examine this exchange again:

Friend 1:  You know, I have something that I really need to get off my chest.  You kind of hurt my feelings the other day when I told you I needed help and you brushed me off, saying you were too busy.  (read: I have been brooding about this incident since it happened and am confronting you so that you can confirm my side of the story.)

Friend 2:  I didn’t know that hurt your feelings.  I would never try to hurt your feelings… (read:  Automatically takes defensive posture.  Don’t blame me, I didn’t do anything wrong.  If I didn’t know it was hurtful, it shouldn’t count against me. )

Friend 1:  Yeah, I know.  It’s just that I would have thought that you’d make time if you saw I needed help.  I wouldn’t have asked if it weren’t important. (read:  I expected you to make me a priority and brought the issue up so that you can confirm that I am a priority to you.)

Friend 2:  I guess like I said, I wouldn’t intentionally hurt you, I was just really busy. (read:  It wasn’t my fault.  Don’t blame me.)

Friend 1:  I guess I can understand that… (read:  So, you’re basically saying that you’d do the same thing again.)

Friend 2:  I mean, I have a lot going on right now.

Friend 1:  Yeah…

Friend 2:  So we’re cool?  (read: I’m not in trouble anymore, right?)

Friend 1:  Sure. (read: whatever)

What happened here?  Starting with Friend 1, if at all possible, bring an issue up as soon as it is an issue–in the original conversation if possible.  When F2 first told F1 that he was too busy, F1 should have made it clear then that a) she really needed the help, and b) that she was hurt by F2’s unwillingness to make  time for her in his schedule.  Now here’s the tricky part:  Do we know whether it was reasonable for F1 to expect F2 to help?  No, we do not.  We don’t know whether “busy” for F2 is taking care of a family while working and going to school full time, or whether it’s baseball season and he just wants to make sure he’s home in time to watch the game.  We also don’t know how close F1 and F2 actually are, such that F1 would expect F2 to make time for her.  But, that is the point of the exercise, because neither F1nor F2 is clear on these matters, either.  Each has a perspective all their own. 

So, back to F1.  She begins the conversation well on the surface, but she brings to the table some unrealistic expectations.  She is not seeking to reconcile a breach, but rather to hear F2 accept blame exactly as she has assigned it to him, for him to take on her perspective and confess his wrongdoing as she sees it.  But as we see, F2 does not take the bait.  His response does not speak very well of him, either, as his only concern in responding to F1 is to deflect guilt away from himself. 

F1 attempts to put the ball back into his court by re-iterating the offense and giving him an opportunity to own up to it.  But he deflects once more.  F1 understands in theory how one could be too busy to help, but for one reason or another judged that F2 could have done otherwise if he chose to do so.  F2 deflects again and F1 retreats.  F2 senses retreat and rallies with another affirmation of his busyness.  F1 disengages.

This conversation did not end in yelling or tears, but it still failed to accomplish reconciliation between the two.  Both friends failed in this endeavor.  Regarding the first friend, her objective in speaking with F2 should have been 1) to discover his perspective and what was going on in his life at the time that could make him busy, and 2) to let him know that she considers them close to a certain degree and that she would like to maintain that degree of closeness.  After sharing that with him, she could have explored the deeper issue–how his actions seemed to indicate to her that he did not value her friendship and did not consider her a good enough friend to re-arrange his schedule for.  On the second friend’s part, he was too busy deflecting blame that he spent no time genuinely attempting to engage in his other friend’s feelings.

Let’s give these friends another chance:

Friend 1:  Hey, do you remember last week when I asked you to help me out and you said you were too busy?  Well, it seemed like you were brushing me off and I thought we were better friends than that.  I mean, can I ask you for help when I need it?

Friend 2:  I’m sorry that it seemed like I was brushing you off.  Unfortunately, there was no way that I was going to be able to help you and still take care of my own obligations; but I do want you to know that you can come to me for help anytime and I’ll do my best to give it.

Friend 1:  Thanks, I really appreciate knowing that.  I guess I didn’t realize how busy you were.  Is everything all right?

Friend 2:  Everything is fine, just one of those weeks is all.

Friend 1: I can understand that…

Friend 2:  So, were you able to get everything taken care of?  Is there some way I can help you this week?

Friend 1:  I was able to find some other people to help, but thanks for the offer.

Friend 2:  So we’re cool?

Friend 1:  Of course.

There are many possible variations on this scenario, but the improvements in the dialogue are that Friend 1 approached the situation not simply blaming Friend 2 for hurting her feelings, but getting to the root of how his actions toward her made her feel about their friendship.  She also openly affirmed her desire to remain good friends with him and asked for clarity as to whether her expectations were reasonable.  Friend 2 also improved in that he apologized for the way that his actions had appeared to his friend, even though he had not intended them that way.  And even though he was genuinely unable to help at the time, he re-affirmed his willingness to help his friend, which is the affirmation that Friend 1 was looking for.  He further showed that willingness by offering to help now.  Friend 1 realizes that perhaps she was being somewhat self-centered in judging him and takes time to better understand what he was going through.  In all this was a successful exchange between friends.

The take-away point:

Addressing an issue with someone who has hurt you will likely be disappointing if you are expecting them to understand exactly how you were hurt and agree on just how to slice up the blame.  Remember, relationally, no one owes you anything but charity (speaking of friends).  Emotions and perceptions, expectations, etc. differ among us all and often confuse things.  Judging the other because they did not meet your particular expectation will likely only lead to strife.  You can always ask for what you want from the other.  Their response will define the relationship.  Take it for what it is, and do not blame or judge if it is not what you wanted.

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