I’ve always been one of those people who beats themselves up about every little cringe-worthy thing I have said, or done. I’d cringe for years. One example that comes to mind is that, at the age of 12, I told a friend’s dad he looked like the actor John Clease (I had been watching a VHS recording of ‘A Fish Called Wanda’ nonstop). I could tell he wasn’t at all pleased by the comparison, and I felt foolish and ashamed of my comment for decades.
I reconnected with that friend very recently, and two weeks ago I went to her birthday party at her dad’s house. Now, please keep in mind, since I’ve been meditating, my tendency towards self-loathing and anxiety is waaaaaaay better, and I hadn’t thought about the John Clease Incident in years. But, no joke, I was actually nervous to see him! So, first off, he looks nothing like John Clease. Second, when I asked him if he remembered what I said, all those years ago, he had no idea what I was talking about. Didn’t even ring a bell. Also, I noticed that he has a sharp sense of humor, so it is possible it never even bothered him to begin with, and 12-year-old me misinterpreted his reaction all those years ago (and spent decades needlessly cringing)!
What a waste of perfectly good time and energy. Why is it so hard for human beings to be kind to ourselves? Why do we insist on creating misery out of well-intended actions, even if they were mistakes? What can we learn from the John Clease Incident of 1989?
First off, let’s consider that our interpretation of any given situation is just that- our interpretation. We have no idea how it affected anyone else. Second, we’re torturing ourselves. We can never change the past. We can’t un-do something just by thinking (um… obsessing) about it.
So, what can we do? Never make assumptions about how someone else is feeling. Give ourselves a break. Laugh at ourselves a little bit. Forgive ourselves, the same way we would easily forgive someone else for something much more egregious. Think of 1 or 2 ‘alternate endings’ to the situation that don’t include us being a complete idiot (maybe he loves John Clease and was flattered, or maybe he thought it was funny that a 12-year-old was watching ‘A Fish Called Wanda’).
I love stories like this because they are so humbling, and such a clear and profound rebuttal to our tendency to obsess about things over which we have no control. Let’s rejoice in our beautiful imperfections, and welcome these rare opportunities to shed light on a way of thinking that, unlike John Clease (because he’s awesome), is no longer relevant.