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Conversations with Sonia and Joe: Messing Up

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

Conversations with Sonia and Joe

Over the past 30 years we have enjoyed many conversations around everyday experiences. Some of these conversations have been turned into articles around such topics as intimacy, contempt, love, commitment, power, surprise, jealousy, desire, ethics and optimism. Others sit half-finished in the back of a filing cabinet, while even more have never made it into writing, having instead faded into the air as our interest waned. Yet, no matter the outcome, these conversations have been immensely satisfying to us.

We would like to expand these conversations beyond the two of us by sharing some of them with you, and hearing back regarding your observations, thoughts, feelings and personal experiences. 

Please join the conversation by posting your comments below.  We would love to hear your thoughts.

Sonia March Nevis and Joseph Melnick

Messing Up

Even the best of us messes up often. To turn against ourselves after we mess up is rarely useful. A competent person knows that these things are ordinary and that the next day will bring new mess ups, but, every once in a while, we have a perfect day.

Joe:  I remember years ago you saying that it doesn’t do me any good to feel bad once I’ve messed up. If I wished to feel bad, I should have felt bad before I messed up, not after.

Sonia:  Yes, people turn on themselves rather than saying, “You know I was a jerk that time; I don’t know why I didn’t do that.” Anything that helps put it out, spit it out in an easy way. Knowing that it is a part of life—neither good nor bad.

Joe:  Yes, I can look at almost anything I’ve done and find a hundred ways that I could have done it better.

Sonia:  Yes, me too.

Joe:  We don’t appreciate the ordinariness of messing up.

Sonia:  I think that’s the right language. It’s a waste to put yourself down for almost any reason whatsoever. Now, of course, there are exceptions and extremes, but most people are talking about simple ordinary things. They forgot to do something, they were told not to do something and they are doing it anyway. Or they didn’t invite somebody to a party. We are full of that stuff all the time.

Joe:  Yes. I forgot their name and I feel so badly, or everyone is dressed a certain way and I’m not, or your zipper is open.

Sonia:  Or you fart. There’s always something.

Joe:  We learn to feel bad early. Maybe it’s a need to be perfect. To be more than who I am.

Sonia:  If there are any medals to be given, they should go to people who say, “Whoops, I’m sorry.”

Joe:  I remember when we were kids and we would say, “so sue me, or shoot me.” Kids have ways to brush it off because they mess up so often.

Sonia:  It is important to teach kids to learn to not feel too bad. It’s amazing how people can be humiliated over simple things—like mispronouncing my name.

Joe:  People will often collapse.

Sonia:  I allow my kids to feel bad over mistakes, like saying, “no, you did something wrong.” I think the goal is to not put it on ourselves or on others; to just put it out without judgment. The only way to get rid of it is to put it out in the air—not to take it in and not to blame others. We have to teach people that there is nobody walking around who’s perfect. There’s always someone better. That doesn’t make you bad.

Joe:  I remember working with a couple and I told her she was entitled to feel this bad [spreads his hands 6 inches], but not this bad [spreads his hands two feet]. She looked stunned. It’s as if she didn’t know that she had a choice. She had a choice of how bad to feel. I’ve sometimes asked people, “How long do you want to feel bad for?”

Sonia:  You can feel badly and hold it in or you can put it out. The other thing you can do is to apologize so you can join with someone.

Sonia:  I like that because it is a matter of acknowledging that most of life is still not this [spreads hands wide]. Many people feel terrible even though they have not done a terrible thing.

Joe:  But suppose there is not another person. l suppose I could apologize to myself.

Sonia:  I often laugh at myself.

Joe:  I remember what they do in a lot of parent-training courses. They tell you to tell your kid, “I’m not angry with you, I’m angry with your behavior—that you stole the milk.” I doubt kids believe that. I know two parents who, when their young kids misbehave, have them put their doll into “doll jail” for a time out.

Sonia:  The opposite is also true. We work with people who don’t feel bad when they should. They blame the others and, of course, these are the most difficult.

Joe:  Yes, these are the ones for whom life never changes. We have to learn to own our mistakes, but learn to carry them lightly.

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