I was doing a reflection exercise in a group about five years back. The idea of the exercise was that everyone had a pad of sticky pages, and you were given prompts for a reflection to offer someone. You’d write your response to the prompt and then hand the sticky note to the intended recipient, before moving back into the crowd. There were about forty of us doing this exercise.
The prompt was “write something you would love from this person, and then give the sticky to them.” The sticky I was given said “I would love to see you show up in the room without explanation or justification.”
The experience I often had in life was that I came across abrasive or arrogant, so to counteract that, I’d create explanation and justification. I’d begin with an apology, or, attempt to make clear that I wasn’t intending to be rude. Ironically, I would usually follow that up by being rude.
Kind of like when people say “No offense” to give themselves permission to say something offensive.
If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of the offensive “no offense intended”, you know that the qualification doesn’t really do anything other than add insult to injury, and prime you for someone to be a dick.
As I started to take myself on, I got supported to see not only my intention, but also the impact I had on people. I started to clean up who I was being on my side of the fence. Instead of trying to be nice and helpful over top of a belief that someone was stupid and needing fixing, I could instead see them as perfectly capable, and then connect with them from there.
That meant that I was no longer relating to them in an offensive way, and my intentions were clean. That doesn’t mean my impact was always aligned with my intentions, of course. We can have the very best of intentions and still make a mess, because we’re humans, not automatons.
While I’d done all that work to get clean on the inside, I didn’t trust myself, and I didn’t trust others. I didn’t trust that I really was clean. I’d get perfectionistic and crazy-minded about it.
I didn’t trust myself because I hadn’t completely eliminated all traces of judgment. Unable to attain a Buddha-like level of equanimity, I would continue to qualify myself until I had achieved perfect, judgment-free enlightenment.
And I didn’t trust other people to be able to receive whatever I had to provide unless I qualified it first. My need to explain, or apologize, or justify, or prime people for what I was about to say was ultimately about a lack of trust. A lack of ability to trust myself and a lack of ability to trust their own capacity to receive me.
Underneath that trust was a fear about the starkness that intimacy provides. Every time I provide justification for what I’ve done, or am about to do, I put a buffer between me and my actions. Hey, don’t hold me too responsible — after all, I let you know that I’m not intending to be offensive/rude/too happy/too excited/etc.
Every time I explain, or pre-emptively apologize, or qualify what I’m about to say, I reduce the level of intimacy that is available between myself and the moment in front of me (including the other people involved).
Qualifying and justification puts distance between ourselves and what is.
And so, if you want to create more intimacy, let go of the preamble. Provide what you have, and then be willing to sit with what it creates.