In the past I've written about how conscious of "lashon harah" we were in our home, growing up. My parents' favorite analogy was: "Words are like birds. Once they're out, they fly away and you can't always retrieve them."
I had a close girlfriend call me today, ask if I had a few minutes to speak, and something in her tone made me suspicious. And rightfully so. She was not calling just for an idle chitchat -- we'd had all last Shabbos afternoon to do that. She was calling to make me aware that I had hurt her feelings this past Shabbos with something I said, and that I have a bad habit of bringing something in her life to the forefront.
I wasn't shocked at what she told me; I was aware on Saturday that I made a comment in a joking manner that, once it was out of my mouth, I had a sense of what it must've sounded like, and couldn't really backpedal. I wasn't shocked, I was hurt...not at her announcement, but at the fact that I had hurt someone close to me and unintentionally.
I told my friend that I was thankful she'd told me my shortcoming; that was the only way that I was to learn how to improve myself and be aware of her sensitivity about the issue. I know people who bear their grievances silently for years; at some point in time there is a major outburst and all the grievances of years gone by come tumbling forth. That is certainly not the way to handle matters, but matters have to be dealt with at hand, or with just a small passage of time, perhaps to think through the approach "the victim" wants to take in order to make their grievances known.
My friend thanked me for being so accepting of what she had to tell me, but I said to her, "Why should I have been anything but? There is nothing for me to be defensive about. I thank you that you told me."
I told her my self-improvement in this area will not happen overnight, even if I try hard enough. I let her know that she can slap my wrist, so to speak, if I say something again that bothers her.
Being honest is sometimes a chance people take, and being on the receiving end of honesty isn't always what one wants to hear...but sometimes it's the only way they CAN HEAR.