I know it’s not new but recently I’ve seen several people making the comment, “you don’t have to explain yourself to anyone” usually with the attached phrase “if they can’t accept you then they can leave”. I have found this statement very unsettling, I think because it is usually attached to major life decisions. I had a professor who would often say, “For every trauma in life there needs to be an appropriate time of grief”. He would often then use a silly illustration like, If I lost this pen [a cheap ball point pen] I need to grieve that loss, it might only be a second of frustration but it acknowledges the loss. From a personal perspective this action of grief helps me to recognize that I do not live in a vacuum and that the negative circumstances have impacted me. This is particularly true of trauma within relationships, I must grieve the loss or significant change in a relationship.
Here is why I brought up my professor’s comments. People may not realize this; but my major life decisions have an impact on my relationships, and in can cause trauma to them. For instance if I take a job in a different part of the country and decide to pack up and leave, that decision impacts many relationships. I will cause trauma to my friends and family as they recognize they will have less physical contact with me. The decision causes trauma to my kids, who suddenly must change schools and who may see their relationship with me as slightly strained. Now imagine I did this without consulting my wife, think of the trauma I’ve placed in that relationship. She probably would even feel a sense of betrayal that I did not include her in the decision making process.
What I am getting at is we do owe people explanations for how we conduct our lives. There are two factors which must be weighed as we decide how much of an explanation we owe a person. How important is the change and how close is the person. My decision to rout for one college football team over another is going to have little impact on most [if not all] of my relationships and so I do not owe people much of an explanation. Now if there is one friend who I watch football with every Saturday, then I may owe that friend more of a justification of my choice since this decision may impact our relationship. Likewise in the above story of switching jobs, I do not owe the neighbor who I almost never talk with much of an explanation since my departure will cause her little grief.
I like the analogy of ripples in the water, my choices ripple the waters of my life but that choice also causes ripples in the lives of those who relate to me. I must recognize that my choices cause these ripples and I must be willing to help smooth out the turbulence, or else I am the cause harm to the relationship. It is essential for me to bear in mind that my actions have consequences for the people who love me and I owe it to them to provide [as well as I can] an explanation of my life.
Here I do want to insert a parenthetical statement, that while I might owe people an explanation, love requires that individual to have positive dialogue. We must both check our responses in love and be willing to listen, particularly though, the person hearing the explanation. It does no good if I try to explain my choices to a friend and that friend is not compassionate enough to hear me out.
As humans we enjoy allowing the world to revolve around “me” and the thinking that I do not owe people explanations is simply another version of this pride. Going back to my illustration of moving, one of my friends might be deeply hurt by what he considers a severe breach of relationship. I owe this friend conversations [plural] where this friend can vent and come to terms with my decision. We might discover that within the friend’s anger are other unresolved traumas and he is resenting me, not because of my action but because he has felt other abandonments which have left him feeling isolated.
Love does not require that I heal all the wounds caused by my actions, that would be impossible. Yet, love does require that I recognize how my actions may have contributed to the ripples in the ponds of those I love. And love requires that I be concerned with the smoothing of those ripples. Living my life as if I do not owe people an explanation for my decisions will eventually leave me surrounded by chaos, that is if people still surround me at all.
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