THE BLOG

We Cannot Diminish Each Other's Lived Experiences

Withholding criticism allows the other to express what is really there. It becomes a supportive space for thoughts and emotions to arise and pass away.

17/03/2017 03:55 SAST
Getty Images

To the woman in the minibus taxi from Woodstock to Claremont today who told me that "you people should get your own taxis". You laughed at me when I referred to South Africa as 'our country' and you questioned whether being born on this continent gave me any right to consider myself as part of it as you.

This isn't an angry rant. It's an apology.

I am deeply sorry that someone with the same skin colour as I humiliated you because of the colour of your skin. I am sorry that you had to stand alone and afraid - while people hurled insults at you - knowing that no one would come to your aid. I am sorry that you had to carry a "permission slip" to move through your own country. I am sorry that you had to defend your right to sit on the same seats as everyone else.

I got to walk in your shoes for a few minutes today and it left me feeling hurt, angry, humiliated, and worst of all, absolutely helpless to change your mind about what you think you know about me.

I hope your resentment and anger is eased somewhat by being able to 'let it out' for a little while. We're told that we're not supposed to do it, but sometimes it just to much to keep inside anymore. Sometimes I say horrible things to other people when I'm angry too. I'm OK with being on the receiving end of your emotions today.

You helped me understand what people mean by 'holding space' for someone.

Holding space means "to be present with an open heart. It is a way of being that has no agenda to change. No judgement. No expectation. Withholding criticism allows the other to express what is really there. It becomes a supportive space for thoughts and emotions to arise and pass away. The power remains with the other person, as we keep our ego out of the space.

You see, I realise that it isn't about me. It isn't about how unfair I think the situation was or how misunderstood I felt. It's about you. It's about how something I said or did which poked at a bruise filled with memories. The bruise that people keep telling you to 'get over'. I wonder if you've ever turned the tables and told them to 'get over' their divorce, the death of their child, a beating from an abusive husband? I wonder if they really understand what they are asking you to do?

What usually allows me to begin working through anger-filled emotions, is hearing someone say "I'm sorry I hurt you". It's not the apology that helps me heal, it's the acknowledgement that their behaviour hurt me and caused me pain. That's all we ever want isn't it? For someone to say "your pain matters to me".

So today I offer my own apology to you in the hopes that it heals even the tiniest bit of your pain. It's a bumbling and ineloquent one but I offer it with an open heart. Because your pain matters to me.

I am sorry that my presence in your day hurt you. I am sorry that my face, my behaviour and my expectations make you re-experience some of that humiliation and indignity everyday. I am sorry that I am a constant reminder of what you lost or what you've never had. I am sorry that it is likely that you will continue to re-experience that humiliation and pain for many years to come.

I have no right to judge your anger because I have no real understanding of the kinds of pain and humiliation you went through and continue to go through.

Our exchange today was a huge lesson - a tiny glimpse into your experience - and I am very grateful that you chose me as a student.