The Rule of No — Part II
Let’s continue working with the example we began in Part I, where we noted what the two versions of a sentence shared in common. What is the main difference between them, do you think? Here they are again:
version 1: “For my part in the difficulty between us last Christmas, I’d like to apologize to you.”
version 2: “At last year’s unhappy family Christmas dinner, I wish I could have remained calm and not added fuel to the fire when you got belligerent and started that fight with me and my wife. I apologize for contributing to the tension.”
What about this part in version 2? “…when you got belligerent and started that fight…”
Now, you and I were not at that dinner, so we do not know what actually happened. Maybe the other person “started” the fight, or maybe the fight was just a series of misunderstandings on both sides that escalated. For this discussion, let’s say the other person did pick a fight.
What are you trying to accomplish by bringing up that particular detail in your ethical will? Simply “flagging” the event (“the difficulty…last Christmas) is not provocative. Describing someone as “belligerent” and as having “started that fight” is a blame-oriented statement, and blaming is provocative. More fuel on the fire….
Even if the other person was belligerent and did start a fight, if your goal is to make peace, take responsibility for your part, and offer forgiveness –would blaming help you achieve that goal? It is unlikely to help at all!
In version 2, flagging the event could have stopped at “last year’s unhappy family Christmas dinner” without the elaboration. The writer could have offered an apology for contributing to the tension, or for adding fuel to the fire, without ever mentioning who started the fight. In peacemaking, it often is irrelevant who starts a fight. What counts is that one person refrains from fanning the flames.
Saying these sorts of things is human nature, and to be expected, and no one is thinking that you are a bad person because maybe you, too, have done this! If you have, learn something from it, and see if you don’t want to try to do it differently next time.
Consider this discussion an exercise in paying special attention to what we say, and how we say it, in a written or recorded legacy that we want to bequeath to our friends, children, and future generations of relatives.
So. If you include such language in your ethical will anyway, that is your right and your decision. We, however, strongly advise restraint and caution, and using only the kindest of all possible language.
We much prefer emphasizing the related Rule of Yes: Yes, put in all the love, forgiveness, hopes and wishes for the future for those you cherish, and lessons you have learned in life. If you think your kids already know you love them, Yes, say it in your ethical will anyway!
It can be very helpful to have someone close to you read your first draft, as a second opinion, and ask this person if there is anything in your language that might be misunderstood as hurtful or provocative. We’ll review in some depth using another reader in future posts.
SUMMARY: Do no harm.
UP NEXT: Lifespan Legacies as History (make a future scholar happy!)