In these days of relentless torrents of self-help blogs and the endless bombardment of intended-to-be-helpful-but-laboriously-over-linked Twitter posts, who wants to read another blog on self-detoxing? But, this is not a cleanse, not something you eat that makes your bowels do weird things and “cleans out” your system. That’s too gross and well beyond my purview. No, today’s blog is not about that.
It is a well-known fact that every psychologist or psychotherapist, priest or rabbi, guru and even your local yoga instructor will tell you that to be psychologically healthy you need to forgive yourself. There’s a wellness website (and a pile of other websites like it) dedicated to that very theme. It might be harder to do if you’ve murdered someone or stolen from an elderly person than if you simply snapped at your parents or snubbed a friend or forgotten your anniversary. But in each case, a person cannot really heal until he or she forgives himself.
Yet in a piece that I read this week entitled, “The One Thing You Should Never Say to a Toxic Person,” the message was made clear in just a few paragraphs that one should never say, “I’m sorry,” to a toxic person. Now I spent some time (maybe too much time) thinking about this. What if, I thought to myself, you do something like the things mentioned above—aside from murder, of course, for the person would, indeed, by then be dead—to that “toxic” person. Shouldn’t you apologize? NO! is what that article screams: under no circumstances are you to do so, because to do so means you’re “giving in to the situation.”
And then, amidst these ruminations, I thought some more. Who are these “toxic” persons? And then I thought, what if I am a “toxic” person. And then I thought—clearly, I was thinking a bit too much—who isn’t a toxic person? I mean who doesn’t do stupid things, say stupid things, behave irrationally or behave in unfriendly wise from time to time? And then I thought of the basic problem I was having with the article—it was lumping people into categories. There’s a presumption of “us”—that’s you and me; we’re in the “good,” non-toxic category, versus “them” (the bad, toxic people that seem to intrude upon our presumably otherwise charmed lives). That’s a good-guys and bad-guys mentality. But are we really non-toxic, like Crayola Crayons?
When a good young man comes to Jesus in the bible and calls him “Good Teacher,” Jesus doesn’t object to the teacher bit, but he challenges the young man about the “good” part. I won’t belabor this point; let me just say that the gist of that passage (Mark 10) is simply this: everybody is a toxic person. St. Paul says the same thing in a different way (Romans 3:23).
So, then I thought, if we are all toxic folks, and if we have to forgive ourselves, among others, to have any sort of peace in our lives, don’t we have to apologize to ourselves (and others) for our (hopefully not-too-pervasive but probably worse-than-we-realize) bad behavior? But if we’re not allowed to apologize to toxic people then we can’t apologize to anyone, including ourselves. And if we don’t apologize to ourselves, can we forgive ourselves?
I admit it: clearly, I have
overthought this thing. But transcending
my labyrinthine ruminations and their concomitant natterings I would leave us
all and myself with this challenge: let’s not look at others as toxic, but look
at ourselves instead and say, you know, how can I get my own toxicity out of my
life? I think one way is to say I’m
sorry whenever it’s warranted. And to say please. And to say thank you. Elaine Jakes taught me these basics a long
time ago, and, you know, I have a feeling that she was right.