I will admit that I used to be one who was often late for dates and appointments. Not by a few minutes, but by half-hours, sometimes more. The excuses, not reasons, were constant and consistent: I got waylaid by a sudden corridor meeting, the boss called, one of my team members came into my cube to consult me just when I was getting ready to leave. Then on top of that, I got held up in unexpectedly heavier-than-usual traffic.
But I say “used to be” because I will also declare that I have managed to correct this many years ago. It was after I was to meet a friend for our usual get-together and I was close to an hour late, and he just about had it. That time around, he did not spare me his words: “Look, I work farther than you do from this place but I managed to make it a few minutes before our appointed time. Can’t you respect my time as I do yours?”. The mood was ruined even before I could sit and settle myself for our much-anticipated lunch and conversation.
I made all conscious efforts to change since then. Not only because of that messed-up lunch appointment, but because I suddenly became self-aware of how often I had turned up late for client meetings, family gatherings, friend get-togethers. If I weren’t late, I’d be feeling harassed upon arriving at where I had to be, having left from where I came with no minute to spare. Sure, I wasn’t late, but I might as well have been as I would struggle to settle and compose myself while the meeting started. Among friends, I developed a reputation of one who was perennially tardy.
And yes, I succeeded. I changed. For years my batting average at punctuality was so good that I believe my reputation changed from a perennially tardy attendee to a stickler for punctuality.
Until the other Saturday.
My best friend and I had a date with a couple of friends at the Polo Club. We were to introduce two other friends to each other so that they could play a few sets of tennis. We reside a few minutes from the Polo Club, so I was taking my time getting ready and for some reason, slipped into my old, long-forgotten habit of leaving without any minute to spare.
Patty, my best friend, peeked into my room and, with that familiar exasperated tone, urged me to hurry. I remained relaxed, moved in slo-mo as I had one last glance at the mirror, switched off the lights, picked up my shoes from the shoe closet, slung my bag on my shoulders.
I heard the car start, Patty revving the engine and palming the car’s horn. My mobile phone rang, insistent and angry. I knew it was Patty calling to ask me what on earth was keeping me. I ignored the ringing and dumped my phone in my bag, went down the stairs, sat on the bottom step to put on my shoes, patted my dog, went out the door, out to the street and boarded the car where Patty, with lips pursed, almost jack-rabbited the moment I shut the door.
We were quiet. I knew she was upset. And I was… defiant. Defiant!
Patty broke the silence. I was expecting her to rant at me the way she used to whenever she was angry. But she was different this time. In measured tones and words carefully chosen, she said, “I don’t want us being late. It is embarrassing. And it’s disrespectful. I found it disturbing that you were not moving with urgency when we were getting awfully late. I hope you understand why I am upset.”
I was quiet. I did not want to argue. And then I wanted to. Pride started getting in the way of my ability to think rationally. I so much wanted to tell Patty that this was the first time in so many years that I caused us to be (almost) late so can’t she cut me some slack? Why can’t she see that?
I did what I learned to do when irrational emotions start creeping inside my heart. I did not count to 10. I could have forced myself to think and feel the oft-repeated phrase “good vibes”, but I needed something else out of the way. Instead, I prayed a silent prayer.
And at that moment, I felt pride leave, almost physically.
I realised that my pride was killing me not so much because I knew she was right, but more because I had to admit I was wrong and was an idiot. Being rebuked by my best friend, or anyone else, is not a pleasant experience, but one that is necessary. Better her than the mute criticism of acquaintances or strangers. And I suddenly appreciated her effort to choose her words rather than berate me as if I were a little kid.
Before I could even speak, Patty continued, “Can we be friends now? I’m sorry, I had to tell you off.”
I was chastised. Pride had no place among my reactions. “You’re right… having improved all these years does not change the fact that I am causing us to be late today. I’m sorry.”
I recall a human resource training course that I attended in a previous job; it was about the importance of feedback. The lesson that struck me the most is that: “Feedback is a gift. Its beauty depends on what we do with the gift.” Pride often prevents us from appreciating the gift of negative feedback especially from those who matter to us and to whom we matter.
And just like any gift, a sincere feedback, most especially a rebuke, deserves at least two words in return: thank you.