Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Forgive Yourself - And Them Too

I was talking to an old friend of mine, we'll call him "Paul," from college about the whole Facebook phenomenon, and how it makes looking for people from your past acceptable, and even cool. After all, you're on Facebook because you want people to connect with you. In the past, it might have been considered a little creepy to search the Internet for people you hadn't seen in 10, 20, or 30 years.

Paul said that he had thought about seeing if his old girlfriend "Frances" was on Facebook, so he could apologize for being such a jerk 30-odd years ago. This got me thinking about one of the many things important things I've learned from being a teacher - the difference between developmentally appropriate and socially appropriate.

A lot of things that we do from the moment we can speak until we're about 24 are developmentally appropriate, but socially inappropriate. That's because our brains aren't quite done until we're 24, and we're still trying to make some social sense out of the world, and trying to figure out how to act and under what circumstances. With this in mind, our 50-something selves really need to give our 20-something selves a break for some of the hurtful, jerky things we did to others. Especially if we're able to understand what hurtful jerks we were then.

I told Paul that he needed to cut himself a little slack. At 20 or so, he wasn't done yet, and is a much better person than he was then.

Nancy was one of my best friends in 4th grade, but we had been arguing over something one morning. I was still angry when I went home for lunch, and on the way home I thought of the perfect thing to say to her that would get to her, and give me the winning strike. When we got back to school for the afternoon session, I went up to her and called her a name that I immediately regretted, because the look on her face told me that the missile did much more damage than I had intended it to. I immediately apologized, and probably felt worse than she did about it.

I felt bad about that for decades. Every now and then the memory of that day in 4th grade would resurface, and I'd feel just terrible.

When I became a teacher, I got to see how kids that age treat each other all the time, and learned about developmental vs social appropriateness. And when I understood that, I realized that I didn't have to drag the guilt of an 8-year-old around with me into my 40s. I understood that for Pete's sake, I was just a kid. I wasn't done yet. It didn't excuse it, but it did sure did explain it. And I definitely learned from it.

There are many people who we need to forgive because they "just weren't done yet." I long ago forgave "Tina," the girl who broke my heart when she dumped me under parental pressure because I was black. 22 may seem awfully mature at the time, but it's not; and finding out a few months later that her mother was dying of cancer changed the entire equation. That girl needed a lot of slack cut for her.

We need to forgive ourselves, and each other, for the hurtful things we did when we were younger and thought we had a clue, but really didn't.

I hope that Paul finds Frances on Facebook so he can apologize. I'd like to find Tina too, so I can tell her that I understand and it's OK.

And then there's Nancy. It would be really nice to hear her say, "Good grief, Keith, you were just a kid!"

That would make it perfect.

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