This evening I upset and disappointed my wife terribly, with a remark that was meant well, but came out completely wrong. There was no excuse - I trespassed against civility, and hurt the person most important to me.
A dear friend of my wife lost her husband very recently. I had never seen a picture of the man, and saw that the widow had posted a picture on Facebook. So I asked, "Is that the dead dude?"
Shocking, to read it that way, and I cringed while writing it. My wife was justly horrified, and left me in no doubt as to the inappropriateness of what I'd said.
"I'm sorry," was fine and necessary, and immediately delivered...but damage was done.
I meant no harm. Those of you who've been following this blog may have read recently that I'm desperately ill, and I've come close to death on several occasions - the last of which was yesterday.
This, and some of the work I've done earlier in life, have led me to have a lack of sentiment about 'major life events' like death. I can't afford to be either sentimental about or sympathetic to myself, because it introduces a destructive weakness. "Don't mean nothin'...not a thing."
But I should never, ever extend that to someone else. What I say about myself is keyed to preserving my morale - being that way about another is simply hard, and cruel.
So, what's the standard? Clearly the Golden Rule doesn't work - I would much rather people treat me in a flippant and offhand manner.
How about Immanuel Kant's "Categorical Imperative"? Act as if your behavior is the model for the whole world? Closer, but not quite. There is still the need to allow for needling a dying man - if that's what he wants, and needs.
Maybe it's just as simple - and as complex - as judging each event and individual individually and acting accordingly, with kindness as the guiding principle.
And if you can't, please pass the f***ing duct tape.