Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Forgiveness Fix

Putting My Tail Between My legs, November 5, 2019

Putting My Tail Between My Legs

An apology is a lovely perfume; it can transform the clumsiest moment into a gracious gift. ~Margaret Lee Runbeck


I was having a bad day at work. A really bad day. We all have them, but this was an especially awful day because I got a call from a vendor who had done some work for me months earlier. She should have been paid already by our central finance office, and when I learned that she had not, I was mortified and embarrassed. Our finance office had a reputation for slow payments, and I went ballistic.

I called the finance office and launched into a tirade the moment someone answered the phone. Even while I was screaming at the poor woman, I knew I was out of line, but for some reason, I couldn’t help myself.

I had never done that in a professional setting before. I knew plenty of people who acted like that and I had always looked down on them. And here I was doing it! Before I slammed down the phone, I told the woman to make sure my vendor got paid immediately or I was going to march over to their office and really make a stink. I don’t recall the woman saying one word back to me.

No sooner had I hung up the phone than remorse set in. What had gotten into me? I’m a nice person; people like being around me. And I’d never treated anyone like that. It was as though the devil took over my soul and turned me into an instant ogre. It wasn’t like this was some huge gaffe either; the non-payment was a pretty minor issue. My reaction was completely uncalled for and I knew it.

The next day, I was scheduled to work from home because I had a lot to do and needed a quiet environment to get the work done. But try as I might, all I did was stare at my computer screen. I kept thinking about that poor woman whom I tore to shreds verbally. I was sure that I had ruined her day, maybe her evening and the next day, too. I wondered if she got so upset that she took it out on her kids or spouse or the clerk at the grocery store. What domino effect had I started because of my bad humor? After hours of non-productivity, I decided I had to right my wrong. I looked up the number for the finance office and called.

“Hello, finance office,” a voice said.

“Um, hello. I called yesterday about non-payment of a vendor invoice. Are you the person I spoke to?” I asked meekly.

There was a pause, and then I heard the woman suck in a breath of air, perhaps steeling herself for whatever I was going to launch at her next.

“Yes, that was me. My boss wants to talk to you.”

“I understand, but before I talk to your boss, I have to apologize to you.”

“What?” the woman said, a note of shock in her voice.

“I am so sorry for screaming at you yesterday. I don’t know what got into me. You didn’t deserve that, especially over something as minor as a bill not being paid. Seriously, I am really sorry.”

“Oh,” the woman said, the tone in her voice taking an upturn. “That’s okay. I get yelled at all the time by people whose payments are late.”

I was nearly speechless. “Are you saying that my despicable behavior yesterday is a normal occurrence in your office?”

“Oh, yeah. It happens just about every day, sometimes several times a day.”

I hardly knew what to say, and then I blurted out, “That’s awful. You shouldn’t have to put up with that. You need to find another job!”

“Naw, I’m used to it. So, are you going to scream at me again?”

“Oh, no, no, no. But I do want to speak to your boss and tell her how sorry I am.”

“Okay, I’ll put you through.”

After a few rings, another woman answered and identified herself as the department manager. When I told her who I was, I realized quickly that an introduction was hardly necessary; she knew exactly who I was. And she was ready for my tirade, which she didn’t get. Instead, I apologized profusely and admitted my wrongdoing. She went quiet.

“Are you still there?” I asked. “Yes, I’m here,” she responded, “and I have to say that I don’t ever recall anyone calling in and apologizing for screaming at one of my employees. In fact, you may be the first.”

“First or not, I feel terrible for what I did. It was so unlike me; it’s not in my nature to treat anyone like that. I want to do something to make amends. Does your employee like flowers or chocolate? I want to send her something.”

“Totally unnecessary, but a nice thought,” she said. “My employees are trained to take whatever angry managers throw at them. They get nasty calls every day.”

“Yes, she told me that.” I reiterated that I would still like to send her employee something to show my contrition, but she said emphatically not to, that an apology was enough. Obviously, this manager did not want me to do anything else. And really, I didn’t want to make the employee’s job any more difficult than it already was. After I hung up the phone, I felt a little better and was able to get back to my project, though what I’d done wasn’t lost on me. Asking for forgiveness was a humbling experience. While I was remorseful and knew in my heart that I would never, ever treat someone so terribly again, I also knew that bad days would still occur, so I had to change and anticipate how I would react to them. I decided that I was going to begin following some notions that I often talked about, but had been lax about following. Clichéd or not, they imparted wisdom that was well worth practicing.

View the cup as half full, not half empty.

Look for the positive in everything.

Assume the best of everyone, even if facts indicate otherwise.

Believe in silver linings.

Be the light in the darkness.

It wasn’t long before those ways of looking at the world became habits that in turn influenced my actions. Annoyances became inconsequential. After a while, nothing bothered me. I let both minor and major irritations slide. Instead, I focused on the good. I’d learned that nothing was worth getting so upset over that I would lose control and mistreat someone. My only regret is that it took hurting someone for me to get my wakeup call.

—Jeffree Wyn Itrich—