Beyond Wrongdoing and Rightdoing

We meet many people  as we go through life – some we instantly click with and remain friends until one of us passes on; some we do not click with at all and hope to never meet again; some who are acquaintances but not real friends, some who are casual friends without any deeper connection.

Saddest are those relationships where there was once a true bond that for some reason has been severed. It could be any number of reasons: one person committed actions or said words in the heat of the moment; one person wished for a certain action to happen from the other but it never did and the person felt let down; or they both said and did things that were not well thought out.

Or it could be that third parties intervened to sever that bond – either by spreading canards about one person to the other to sever the relationship, or it could be a person’s possessive spouse or other relative who came in between two friends or siblings and made it a choice between themselves and the friend/sibling. We often see brother-sister relationships compromised when the brother gets married to an insecure woman. The insecure spouse tries her best to isolate the brother from his sister, and loving bonds of a lifetime are compromised. The brother may continue to love the sister and vice versa but they will never be allowed to bond in the future, because it has become an either/or situation or is presented as one.

Conversely, sometimes birth families get insecure with the entry of the spouse and never allow a spousal relationship to work – they intrude so much into the person’s marital life that such a life becomes impossible to sustain, and is eventually lost (painful is the situation where the couple has a child, who is an innocent caught in such cross-currents). The spouses may feel love for each other but aren’t allowed to bond because one spouse is too attached to their birth family and doesn’t have the strength to stand up to them.

Relationship severance caused by the third party involves two things: an insecure third party who works to break up the relationship, and a person who is not strong enough to balance relationships and draw boundaries on acceptable behavior.

Sometimes things don’t go as far as marriage – a couple in love breaks up before taking that step. The love can be strong and steadfast but there can never be a shared future because of differences that can never be bridged….

No matter what the root cause of an estrangement is, the estrangement happened. And barring a few cases where the erstwhile loved ones are able to reconcile  (or they are able to stand their ground and not allow a third party to come between them), the estrangement can never be undone in this lifetime.


What of the love that once was, though? That true bond that caused one to feel instant delight in seeing the other, and eagerly look forward to the next meeting? That bond that has so much shared history, and a connection beyond words? A connection forged out of intuiting the other’s needs and giving freely from the heart, that is now  lost? A bond that felt like a vital part of oneself….

Unless one is a person of extremes who can go from absolute love to absolute hate and steadfastly remain there, the relationship is buried deep in one’s heart in the form of a love and a yearning, as if for a phantom limb. Even if it is a person of extremes, they are probably hiding the pain of their loss in anger, believing that the anger will be their protective shield against being that vulnerable ever again.

Nothing and no one can replace the missing person in life. They played an important role in shaping us to be who we are, and one fine day that role is abruptly finished. Gone. Severed……We are now supposed to pick up and move on as if nothing has happened, as if the person never existed……Many of us go through life mourning some lost relationship(s).

There are days when memories return of the lost loved one and bring a smile to our faces – a bittersweet memory that is painful, yet preserved and cherished – like a crumbly rose within the pages of a book that still retains some of its beauty and fragrance, a rose that one is loath to part with. What does it matter what the relationship used to be? Friend, sibling, a lost love….In this journey we are all kindred spirits!

Many relationships are lost due to ego battles.

Years ago, I remember taking a small child to a museum. Child must have been around three then. The Natural History museum was a multi-storeyed one with many exhibits; one of the floors had a replica of a tropical rainforest with fake trees and animals. This is generally an area that greatly entertains younger children as they get to stop by and examine every animal and tree.

Deciding to take said child to this forest replica, I took child by the hand and boarded the elevator. Then I did a cardinal mistake – I punched the button to go to the appropriate floor, forgetting that this is a role the child in question normally took whenever we boarded elevators. This, coupled with the time being dangerously close to  nap time brought on a meltdown that didn’t abate even after we rode the elevator up and down many times, simply to let said child punch the button to the appropriate floor. The refrain was, “But I didn’t get to punch the elevator button that time!”

Three year olds can be physically carried elsewhere and distracted. Once they get preoccupied with something else, given some food, and some rest, they get back to being themselves again.

A child is able to fight it out in all earnestness, forget about it or apologize the next day, and return to playing with their friend or relative again. They can forget, forgive, seek forgiveness and make amends without any problem. They can also chuck past angry moments behind – there is too much to explore in life to waste it on anger and resentment.

As we grow older, the ego grows…..and in direct proportion grows one’s vulnerability. Some are more easily hurt than others, and tend to brood on grievances. They aren’t able to let go of past hurts, and use anger as their shield to protect themselves from future hurts. Unlike the child who can let go and give room for love, as we grow older we close our hearts and shut out our natural generosity to forgive and seek forgiveness. We become guarded and come to expect the worst, waiting for the other shoe to fall, and shielding ourselves from that fall by repeatedly recalling that one mistake….that one press of the elevator button that was missed!

In this I am not including those that deliberately manipulate and hurt a person – those who wear different masks for different occasions, and whose (simulated) feelings are motivated by expediency. We are better off guarding ourselves from the pathological users, chameleons, and opportunists. They are the politicians of our daily lives who appear every so often when they need something…..In Tamil there is a saying that loosely translates to “when they need something, they fall at your feet; when the need is done with, they go for your throat”. Best to keep such people at a distance.

I’m talking about the average bumbling person X who makes mistakes and hurts unintentionally. The injured person Y may assume that the hurt was intentional and then retaliate, wounding X. Now X becomes angry and says or does more stupid things. Soon things get out of hand and relations break.

In an alternate scenario, X may make an inadvertent mistake, wounding Y. Y brings this up to X and the latter, instead of apologizing and making amends, sees it as a slight to their ego: “You pointed out my mistake!”. X then uses anger to cover up their mistake, because they cannot come down from their lofty peak to apologize – the act of apologizing is seen as something putting them in a one-down position. They don’t even want to make amends, because this would mean admitting the mistake even to themselves, which is also wounding to the ego. It takes a secure person to apologize and those with fragile egos are insecure, and apologizing feels like compromising their standing. So they use smokescreens and gaslighting.

Techniques such as reversing cause and effect are used. Y may have done something in retaliation for what X did. But X says Y did the (retaliatory) action and that is why X acted in the (original) wounding manner – this is nothing but gaslighting.

Another technique used is victim-shaming:  “You deserve what I said or did because…..”. When the injured party protests, X replies in a more grievous way, compounding their mistake. Things go downhill from there. When push comes to shove, some ego-driven Xs are insincere apologizers who apologize in a way that is not an apology at all. It could be a breezy “sorry!”, or the classic phrase “I am sorry but….” with a clause that completely nullifies the apology and attacks the person they are apologizing to.  President Clinton’s televised apology to the nation at Lewinskygate comes to mind.  Ego is the death of many relationships.

It is also tough to apologize to someone who holds onto grudges and can never let go. One can never be sorry enough, apologetic enough, make up enough. They have elephantine memories of every slight, perceived or real. The relationship can never be mended because of a desire to punish the apologizer that is lurking in their minds.

Sometimes the  only way to get out of a tough situation is through it. When X wounds Y and either realizes it or is made to realize it, the sooner amends are made, the better. The apology needs to be said sincerely and directly, and amends need to be made. If the wounded party is not in a spirit of reconciliation, it doesn’t matter. We can only make the effort……the results are not up to us. The apology frees us from negative feelings, and if the aggrieved party realizes it one day and makes up to us, our door is open. If the aggrieved party is vengeful, then we try to distance ourselves while still keeping the door open (tough to do!).

What if we are the aggrieved party? What if our heart and soul have been so wounded that we fear we will be wounded in the same manner once again, and won’t have the strength to withstand it….? This is a tough one. The thought process goes like this: it took a while to get up and get going, and took all our strength to bring us to our new normal…..What if we are pushed down again?  It is our choice whether to trust again, to forgive, and to let go……or not. To evaluate whether the cost of losing the relationship forever is worth it or not.

Perhaps if we are the aggrieved party, we could move forward by accepting the apology, and guardedly allowing the person back into our lives, assuming the apology is heartfelt. Or if that is too much, we can accept the apology but honestly state that things can never  be the same again. Because some wounds are too deep and in time may heal with some self-care – or never fully heal. A cloth once torn can be stitched but will never be whole again…..

Wish we all had the mind of a child in this regard – to forgive and move on because life is too short to hold onto resentments. But as adults, the stakes are higher, and wounds are deeper….And our mind loses the elasticity to forgive, forget and move on.

Those who come with the courage to seek forgiveness when such forgiveness is necessary, and to have the generous heart to give forgiveness when such is sincerely sought, are able to move on and re-establish relationships. For this, both parties should be game. If egos are strong, or if anger continues to be used as a shield, there can be no reconciliation.


But the love remains – as a truth in one’s heart……. and the hurt of the severed relationship remains buried deep within the soul. As years pass, one may forget who was right and who was wrong, and realize perhaps that they were both wrong. But by this time, too much water has flowed under the bridge and the chasm is too wide.

In the end, when we cease to exist or are close to that point, rights and wrongs become meaningless. All that matters is love…and love is the only constant. Shorn of the trappings of this world, we will perhaps meet somewhere as pure spirits, kindred spirits….and it will be a moment filled with pure love and light.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other” doesn’t make any sense”

– Maulana Jelaluddin Rumi

3 thoughts on “Beyond Wrongdoing and Rightdoing

  1. Very well said. A few comments:

    (1) If you get saddled with a person who has trouble saying sorry – your options are to put up with it or get out. Insisting on an apology from such a deeply insecure person is counterproductive in so many levels. For folks who have no trouble at all in readily, genuinely and sincerely saying “I am sorry”, it is next to impossible to *begin* to comprehend why to someone else that can be so *deeply threatening* – but that *is* the problem. (that it is impossible for us begin to comprehend)

    I think even such die-hard non-apologists unless they are true monsters have a way of saying “sorry” – It is just that their apology does not look/feel *anything* like an apology others are used to – it is *nevertheless* an apology if you are tuned to that frequency so to speak. Most of us are not so tuned 😦

    (2) I remember reading somewhere that people readily forgive those who have hurt them badly (because it makes them feel noble), but seldom forgive those who *they* have hurt badly.

    I think this is deadly. The cognitive dissonance in admitting that X is really a good person and that *I* have hurt X badly can drive an insecure person – the I – to erect a mental image of X that is *so* one sided to justify to oneself that I had to do what I had to do – what is called in theory as “Splitting” (

    (3) “Perhaps if we are the aggrieved party, we could move forward by accepting the apology, and guardedly allowing the person back into our lives” –

    Wonderful if possible. For it to be possible, any patch up must happen soon enough but no sooner. I recall watching this excellent show in SFO 20+ years ago about a Vietnamese immigrant who never managed to adjust himself and feel at home in America. He longs for home and home for him is filled with these beautiful images of Vitenamese skyscape filled with colorful kites. He returns to Vietnam 15 years later only to find that flying kites is no more the in thing. It was a tragic play about how an/some immigrant is lost between his adopted world and the world he left behind.

    (4) “We often see brother-sister relationships compromised when the brother gets married to an insecure woman”

    insecurity does not gender discriminate. brother-brother relationships are as much a victim.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is such a deep comment, Man of Substance! “people readily forgive those who have hurt them badly (because it makes them feel noble), but seldom forgive those who *they* have hurt badly.
      I think this is deadly. The cognitive dissonance in admitting that X is really a good person and that *I* have hurt X badly can drive an insecure person – the I – to erect a mental image of X that is *so* one sided to justify to oneself that I had to do what I had to do – what is called in theory as “Splitting” ” – this is probably why so many justifications are given, and smokescreens erected.


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