Sorry, Not Sorry

I’m proud and a little awed to be able to say that there are cool, exciting, fun things going on in my life right now and that, overall, I’m one happy, lucky butch. Not surprising, then, that I’ve been a bit more smiley, a bit more easy-going lately. And people around me notice. It’s all good.

Until someone tries to turn my happy into guilt.

Here’s what happened: I get to the conference room five minutes before a long, tedious meeting so I can get a good seat by the door. I’m sitting hunched over my iPhone grinning like an idiot at some Tweet or comment or other from one of my online pals. The silence is abruptly broken by a loud, irritated “what the hell is there to smile about?” Looking up, I continued to smile and tried to pass it off as a joke with a light-hearted “oh, I’m just feeling good today.” But my accuser (that’s how it felt) scowled and muttered darkly “those of us who pay attention to the world know there’s nothing to feel good about.”

The implication was clear: my happy was inappropriate and offensive. I was immediately sorry for my flip comment and felt a stab of guilt for being happy in the face of his gloom.

Guilt is my go-to, conditioned response to anything that feels wrong in my little world. My non-clinical opinion is that a lifetime of “raisin’ ‘n learnin'” from a bevy of fierce Southern women (Steele Magnolias ain’t got nothing on my mamma, granny and aunts) has instilled in me a fundamental conviction that if its wrong and in my general vicinity, it is (a) my fault, and (2) my job to fix it.

However messed up that is, it’s my reality and I’ve learned to deal with it. So, after the obligatory, knee-jerk guilt, my reasoning brain turned back on and I began to think.

As I sat through that boring meeting that had almost nothing to do with me or my department, the reasoning part of my brain picked at that encounter, cataloging each element. When the meeting was finally over and I could consciously pay attention to it again, my guilt was replaced by irritation and resolve.

I was irritated at the guy who’d tackled me, yes. Because, seriously, how rude! But I was also irritated at the underlying principle: if anyone is unhappy, you must be, too.

How idiotic! While I believe myself to be a compassionate, empathetic person, I learned in the hard way in law school family law clinic practice that absorbing the sadness of others is the worst way to relate to someone. Making their pain yours paralyzes you both and you, as the advocate, become worse than useless. You become complicit in that person’s pain going unresolved. The trick is finding a way to convey sympathy and understanding without internalizing their horror. In an attorney-client relationship, I’ve honed that skill. But it’s still easier said than done in my personal life.

Yes, over the last week or so the world has witnessed a lot of terror, loss, violence. I do not trivialize any of it, nor do I judge any individual’s reaction to it as too acute or unwarranted. Every person deals with grief in her own way.

Still, I was blessed to be spared any deeply personal impact of these events by not losing any loved ones or being the target of any these acts of terror. If nothing else, that fact alone is worthy of praise and a smile. And feeling blessed in this way does not in any way negate any other person’s experience or feelings.

Thus, I rose from that conference table resolved to continue feeling good about all the good things in my life and the world in general. I will not allow anyone else to dictate my feelings or do my thinking for me. And I will not feel guilty for being happy when I have reason to be, regardless of sorrows that exist in the world at large.

So, Angry Coworker, I’m sorry I’m not sorry. That’s as close to a guilt trip as I’m willing to bear for my non-crime of happiness.

And…I’m still grinning like an idiot every chance I get. 😉

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10 comments so far

  1. Femmi on

    Oh I wonder what has you grinning so regularly…

    It is a blessing to be happy. Never let anyone take that from you. All anyone can strive to in this life is happiness. I feel sorry for your coworker who was being a Grinch.

    • Searching4Self2013 on

      Hmm, just very blessed. 😉

      Yup, Grinchmeister. But you’re right, happiness is a blessings to be preserved.

  2. FemOutLoud on

    Just wow … YES.

    “… a lifetime of “raisin’ ‘n learnin’” from a bevy of fierce Southern women (Steele Magnolias ain’t got nothing on my mamma, granny and aunts) has instilled in me a fundamental conviction that if its wrong and in my general vicinity, it is (a) my fault, and (2) my job to fix it.”

    I make such an intentional effort to take joy in the tiniest of simple things, to celebrate whenever the sun is shining, to appreciate lovely wildflowers without needing to pluck (destroy) and own them, to notice the artistic value of a random shadow striking the wall … and still, my reflex upon encountering pain, is that I must have done this; how can I make it right? (Obviously, I am capable of making it right. That’s not at issue. I’m a strong Southern woman, aren’t I?)

    This morning … just … wow. You have definitely spoken to my condition, Friend. Thank you.

    • Searching4Self2013 on

      And you to mine, friend. Here’s to both of us practicing intentional positivity to fight off that conditioned response.

      #southernraisedsolidarity

      • FemOutLoud on

        At least the negative manifestations of it … assuming without even noticing that I’m capable of stepping up and fixing things has, on occasion, allowed me to do just that when other people thought it wasn’t possible. I’d like to keep that bit–and give up the ridiculous guilt and sense of responsibility for the wellbeing of the universe, perhaps?

      • Searching4Self2013 on

        Oh, I like that so much! Yes! Wise distinction. I’m all for keeping what works & punting what isn’t worth keeping.

      • FemOutLoud on

        LOL For all that I acknowledge there’s plenty of conditioning worth challenging … it’s also my Southern roots that give me much of my strength, and I’d never wish that away. 😉

      • Searching4Self2013 on

        Amen to that!

  3. A Spare Mind on

    Goodness, I really appreciate this post and I relate to it. I struggle, VERY much, with this very issue. Thank you.

    • Searching4Self2013 on

      Hi! Glad you liked it. Assuming guilt & responsibility for the world at large is a struggle. I wish you great success in overcoming that conditioned response and freeing yourself to be happy. 🙂


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