It’s funny how a single incident or remark can change a relationship forever. The slightest word, look or act can radically and unexpectedly shift the ground beneath us. A graphic expression of this occurred in the 1991 film Avalon, which follows the fortunes of an extended immigrant Jewish family after World War II.
Over the years the family developed several traditions that bound its members together. One was Thanksgiving dinner. It happened that one brother and his wife habitually arrived late for the event. So one year the host decided not to wait for his brother to arrive and began carving the turkey.
When the brother and his wife finally arrived and saw that the meal had begun, he exploded and left the house screaming: “I can’t believe you cut the toikey!”
According to the story, that moment irreparably severed the bond between two brothers and their families.
The incident mirrors what often happens in real life: A will that favors one child over another; a dispute among siblings over whether to place an incapacitated parent in a nursing home; or unilaterally deciding that a family member should no longer drive now that she’s reached a certain age. All of these actions can forever alter a previously stable (and loving) relationship.
How can we know the repercussions of our actions or words? What does it take to anticipate the impact of a single remark, or action? Maybe the best we can do is think through the repercussions of our actions and put ourselves in the place of a potentially aggrieved party. Perhaps, there is nothing we can do to prevent hurting, offending, or angering someone who at the slightest remark will turn a relationship on its head and allow years of friendship to evaporate in an instance.
Who are we? The person who easily takes offense and is willing to sacrifice a relationship in the name of pride or status? Or, someone who mindlessly makes statements that cause irreversible harm? Or, one who weighs the potential outcome and relies on his or her inner resources to guide their actions?