By now, you may have seen the video. A devout religious woman grabs the hand of Pope Francis as he greets the crowd of pilgrims and children. He tries to move on. She refuses to let go. In frustration, he slaps her hand and continues on.
It’s not a pretty sight for sure. Especially for a man who has spoken so beautifully about kindness and compassion and humility. To call it “violence” would be an overstatement, but it was rudely out of character—a contradiction of what the man teaches and is supposed to be an example of.
But here’s the thing: If you’re surprised and horrified, the problem is not the pope, it’s you. We all fall short. Seneca fell short. Marcus Aurelius fell short. Epictetus did too. Do you think they never lost their tempers? Never did the wrong thing? Ever failed to live up to their impossibly high standards?
They, like the pope, like you, are human. Which means flaws. Which means messing up. Which means doing the exact opposite of what you believe and how you want to be (because you’re tired, because you were tempted, because you weren’t thinking). “Is it possible to be free from error?” Epictetus said. “Not by any means, but it is possible to be a person stretching to avoid error.”
So don’t be too hard on other people, or even yourself. Accept apologies when given. Offer them readily when necessary. Learn from both other people’s mistakes and your own. And remember Pope Francis’ apology, because it was a wise one: “Love makes us patient. So many times we lose patience, even me, and I apologize for yesterday’s bad example.”