If You Broke It Say So (Then Shut Up About It)

I broke something of great value the other day, something that does not belong to me. That’s not a metaphor. There is a thing that belongs to someone else, and through clumsiness and a lack of attention, I ran into it and it broke. Like, B-R-O-K-E.

I lay on the floor for a moment taking in the damage, stunned. My appendages were all accounted for, and blood was not flowing. Damn. That was my first thought: I would feel so much better about this if I were injured.

My daughter was there, so my attention turned to her. It was she who asked for me. She set the breakage in motion, didn’t she? Maybe I would feel better if I blamed the episode on her.

Nothing doing there. All that was left was to report the breakage to the owner. His face registered both the value of the object and the seriousness of the damage. Maybe I would feel better if I berated myself in his presence. Maybe I should let loose my self-loathing in the living room.

When we break something, it is tempting to hide in sympathy, in blame, or even in flagellation of ourselves. By hiding, we shelter ourselves from the impact of our mistake, be it intentional or accidental. That impact has to go somewhere, though, and hiding from it forces it onto other people–innocent bystanders, or even the people we’ve hurt.

If you broke it say so. With a straight face. And your hands in your pockets. Apologize. Then stop talking.

And of course, be more careful.

 

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