Somewhere along the way, we have lost the value of intention.

Think back to the last time you were offended. Let’s dig deep for a minute. Did getting riled up have to do with the tone that was leveled at you? Did you feel disrespected, or as if you weren’t important? Maybe you had extended a gesture to another person, had asked to have an intimate and difficult conversation and were snarled at and told you “don’t get it,” and that the person did not want to talk to you, or they felt it was not their job to “educate you,” when you had been polite in your tone and actions?

This is exactly why I think we need to stop telling each other how to talk to each other.

Because we lose the meaning of intention.

In order to have delicate conversations, we have to allow questions that sting, we have to take the responsibility to bear up the accidental missteps well-meaning people take.

I am all for talking through topics that need addressing, but the respect and the forgiveness for the clumsy gestures and statements of another need to be present.

Any further progress is absolutely shut down when a person’s well-intentioned mistake becomes fodder for fire or persecution. Guess what? The person delivering the message is absolutely blocked.

It is so much easier to go through life believing that people are trying and that they sometimes slip up than it is to suspect every single person I come into contact with has it out for me.

In fact, it is exhausting to constantly be on the lookout for offenses.

I used to live that way…believing I was the black sheep who was endlessly fascinating and feed for the rumor mill. It was dark and defeating to exist in that reality. I wanted to be happy, but I thought no one cared enough about my feelings. I was very self-centered, obviously, because I thought no one cared. I hadn’t learned yet, the person I needed to care the most was me.

For any rift to mend, we need forgiveness. As long as another person is trying, as long as they are sincere (albeit bumbling), why can we not look past their “shortcomings” and why do we focus on what they should have done or said?

We all have different sets of tools, and these are based on a multitude of factors. How we grew up, the care we have received, our relationships, our ethnicities, demographics, gender, orientation, etc. In simple terms, sometimes what the other person expects us to inherently know is not a fair expectation.

But should we be chastised for being kindly curious?

Do you know what happens when a dog is scolded? You can even see the expressions on their faces in the dog shaming videos, they are ashamed. They try to makes themselves smaller. They absolutely feel bad about themselves and they develop a sense of mistrust. The same is true when we are “conversation shamed.”

Let me be clear. I am not talking about rude behavior that is jeering, hurtful or polarizing. Not at all.

I am talking about the fact that if we want to build awareness of any topic, then we need to talk about it. We won’t have all the answers and just as it is our responsibility to ask those questions and educate ourselves, it is also our responsibility to listen without judgment and to gently correct as we educate.

In my experience lately, it seems people want to tell everyone everything. A discussion, a thread is started and well-meaning people who want to learn how they might be complicity participating in a systemic society for example, (and there are plenty of examples), are shouted down, are berated for not asking questions the right way, or for making mistakes.

The road stops. Why would the dog return to us to eat if we have screamed it into submission?

Forgiveness is hard because people may think that when they forgive it lets the person who hurt them off the hook. It may make them feel forgettable as if they are aren’t worth much if they allow themselves to be mistreated without repercussions. But no bridge was ever built on one side of the bank. No hand can hold itself. No person can lean alone and forgiveness is an act that involves more than one.

So, can we please cut each other a break already? You can ask me about my gay children or my straight child. You can ask me about my disease, about my past or future, about my lineage. As long as you are kind to me, I will respond in kind to you.

Personal growth really can be that simple, but it involves us all.

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Original article appeared at The Good Men Project. Reprinted with permission.

Photo credit: Getty Images

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