Early one morning last week, on a dark rainy day (for which we are deeply thankful here in California), I flew to Los Angeles. As our airplane lifted above the clouds, I suddenly could see the most gorgeous sunrise. I looked down in wonder at the rays of sunlight shining through the deep pink clouds and hills below, and a memory popped into my head from several years ago.
I was sitting with Eve, a very dear and very elderly friend who was dying. On her bedside table, I found an article about four messages that people need to communicate to find peace with those who have been important in their lives. These four messages are: “I love you, I am sorry, I forgive you, and Thank you!”
Peering through the airplane window at the magnificent sky, I remembered holding Eve’s hand and thinking, “Why wait?”
To keep emotional safety throughout our lives, we should not wait until we are dying to communicate these four important messages to others or to ourselves:
1. “I love you!” We need to make sure that the people we love know that we love them. They cannot read our minds. And people forget, especially when the busy-ness of everyday life gets in the way. Although we might have told them yesterday, we still need to tell them again today.
Even if we feel annoyed, upset, or angry with our children, our partners, our family, or our friends, we need to keep in mind that our feelings of the moment can be like clouds blocking our view of the sun. The sun is still there even if we cannot see it. And our love is still there, even if we don’t feel it in the moment.
To give this message with no strings attached, it is important to express love without expecting the other person to say, “I love you” back. And we need to remember to love ourselves.
2. “I am sorry!” In most of our important relationships, there are going to be times when we say or do things that are hurtful or even harmful to others. Even if what happened wasn’t our fault or was truly necessary, we can still be sorry for the sadness, pain, or damage that we caused and try to find ways to make amends.
If what happened was our responsibility and was not in keeping with our own values, we can say that we would not like to be treated that way ourselves and state what we will do things differently in the future. When we say we are sorry, it is important to do this without expecting that the other person will tell us that everything is okay or say that our apology is accepted.
3. “I forgive you!” Forgiveness helps us to mend relationships and to let go of the burden of resentment towards others. As former President of South Africa and Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela said to explain his lack of resentment about being kept in prison for decades, “Being resentful is like drinking poison and hoping it kills your enemies.” And everyone is better off if we can forgive ourselves as well as others.
Forgiveness does NOT require trust. Instead, it helps us to look realistically at a person’s behavior and track record and to see what is possible in moving forward with our relationship. Remember that trust is built on a history of shared positive experiences, including someone’s response to our setting boundaries. We can trust people in one area without trusting them in others.
Forgiveness also does NOT require that we stay close to people whose behavior is likely to continue to be destructive to our well-being. For example, forgiveness allowed me to free myself from feeling upset for years about one of the most hurtful and educational episodes in my life. Instead, I could sum it up with the peaceful realization that, “Eventually, we discovered that we were better off working separately rather than together.”
4. “Thank you!” Expressing appreciation helps people blossom, helps our relationships deepen, and increases our own well-being. We can appreciate people just for being in our lives, even if we need to set boundaries at times orif we disagree with some of the things that they do.
Sometimes it is hard to see what is positive in the here and now because:
- People don’t fit our preconceptions about what they should be doing.
- We feel anxious about what might happen.
- Our vision is clouded by past hurts.
- We take what this person is doing for granted.
- Our own perfectionism makes us feel like whatever anyone does is not enough.
Focusing on the positive with our attention and approval is like giving water to the plants in our garden that we want to see grow. In addition, many studies show that being able to notice what is good in our lives and to express our gratitude improves our own mental health, reduces stress, and increases our resilience in overcoming problems.
Our connections – within our own hearts, minds, and spiritual beliefs; with each other; with other creatures; and with our precious earth – are what give meaning and purpose to our lives. By expressing our love, our regret for any harm we have done, our forgiveness for any harm done to us, and our heartfelt thanks, we can strengthen these connections and add joy to our own lives and the lives of those important to us.
So, to YOU, as one of my readers, I want you to know that:
I love you for being in my life as a reader, a colleague, and/or a friend now and hopefully for many years to come.
I am sorry if anything I have written, said, or done has been hurtful to you in any way.
I forgive you if you have done anything harmful or hurtful to me.
And I thank you for your support of our work in Kidpower, for taking charge of your own safety, for your commitment to keeping others safe, and for the good you do in our world.
Published: December 22, 2014 | Last Updated: August 10, 2016