So … I am an over-apologizer. I am. I know it. I hate discordance. I don’t like when people are mad at me, or when I feel that there is any animosity between me and another person. When I was a teenager this was a very painful characteristic to hold because I’d end up apologizing for things in friendships and relationships that probably weren’t really my responsibility to apologize for. I still do this … when I ask a question of a co-worker, when I double-check a schedule, when I miss a call – apologizing is second nature to me. I recently had someone call me out on it and say, “Why are you apologizing?” To which I said … “Um … habit?”
Like I said, I don’t like the stomach-ache or guilt that comes with any kind of disagreements, but I have also come to learn that I cannot expect other people to feel the same way. In the words of Robert Brault, “Life becomes easier when you learn to accept an apology you never got.” I think I have had a lot of those anti-apologies, but maybe living by the philosophy of not expecting them has kept me from becoming embittered.
Sadly, I think I’m a minority in this respect. In fact, most of the people around me, (apart from my family) sort of suck at apologizing all together. I would guess that this stems from the idea that they are still waiting for the world to apologize to them for something (or everything). These people tend to be my polar opposite and deal with conflict by either: A) not apologizing at all or B) apologizing badly.
Some more generous personalities than mine might question my morals here stating that any apology is better than none, to which I say – you’ve obviously never heard the same paradoxical apologies I am regularly witness to. I swear most of them are more excuse, or vindication in nature than sincere. For example, any apology that starts with, “I’m sorry but,” is a fail in my mind. According to the dictionary, the conjunction “but” literally means, “Used to introduce something contrasting with what has already been mentioned,” meaning … “Whatever I’m about to say, is completely void by what I’m about to say after it.” Benjamin Franklin related this when he said, “Never ruin an apology with an excuse.”
Becoming a mother has been a whole elevated experience in the art of apology. This is mostly because my children, when left alone, are exceptionally awful at apologizing; I think most children are. They are filled with a mix of tattles and acquittals, but not an ounce of chagrin for the actual behavior. Whenever my children do something to one another that they need to apologize for (every other hour) we, instead, have come to a strict format of how to say I’m sorry. Our scripted conversations go something like this:
Me: “You need to apologize to your sister.”
Son: “I’m sorry.”
Me: “For what?”
Son: “For pushing?”
Me: “Why are you looking at me when you’re apologizing to her?”
Son: “Because you’re talking to me.”
Me: “Well apologize to her.”
Son: “Do you forgive me?”
Me: “Me or her?”
In complete honesty, it has taken years (really … years) for my kids to learn to apologize well. I’m still not saying that they mean every apology, but they do know how to apologize in theory, which is more than I can say for most people. Most people either pretend they don’t know they’re supposed to apologize, or they give you a false apology that would better have been left unsaid.
I heard a great scenario that said:
Grab a plate and throw it on the ground. – Okay done.
Did it break? – Yes.
Now say sorry to it. – Sorry.
Did it go back to the way it was before? – No.
Do you understand?
I think more of us need to think about the way we act in an intentional way. I need to stop apologizing for too many things and save the “I’m sorry’s” for something real; and some (many) need to realize that they do, in fact, have broken plates to apologize for.
A true apology is super glue for the soul.