Once upon a time I made what I had NO IDEA was a stupid, hurtful comment to a struggling friend. She was telling me of a newly-discovered battle she was choosing to keep private – a diagnosis of a child on the autism spectrum. I said what I thought were the right (supportive) things, and then I said something idiotic about her choice not to “wave the flag” about her kid’s diagnosis.
— Here is why I said that. I have a lot of friends and acquaintances who are fighting remarkable battles every moment with special-needs kids, and I applaud their parenting AND I LOVE THEIR KIDS. Having said so – I have occasionally heard acquaintances speak about their children with special needs as the need: Like, “I have my hands full with this CONDITION who also happens to be my child.” I am a huge supporter of parents who advocate for their kids, and an even more huge supporter of those who help their kids advocate for themselves. Something hurts me when a person is placed behind a diagnosis, as opposed to the other way around. I think the human being should come first, is all.
Now, I know that what I said hurt this friend. I didn’t know it for a long time. Naturally, as soon as I realized that I had been stupid, I apologized. I recognize that what I meant and what she heard were at vast odds, and that it may have driven a fatal wedge in our relationship. I do not fault her for this in any way. I was stupid. I said something vague where (hello) even if I’d been specific, it would not have been useful or helpful. I caused hurt. The fact that I didn’t mean to? Not relevant. The fact that I apologized? Not enough. I am not here to try to fix all the dumb I’ve been responsible for in my long, long life of dumb. I am here to say that sometimes I say things that are categorically stupid, and that when I offend I am sorry. I try to keep the stupid to a minimum. I really do.
This is an event that I think about on an almost daily basis. It happened YEARS ago. The thing is, I deserve to think about it. I deserve to have it on my mind. That bad decision I made might make me slightly less stupid in future discussions of that sort (or of any sort – thoughts about that mistake enter my mind in nearly every critical conversation I have). And I think it helps me choose to take offense less often than I might, because I consider that when someone I love (or like, or simply don’t despise) says something stabby or hurtful, I can – from personal experience – choose to assume that what I hear isn’t necessarily what he meant to say.