Posts Tagged ‘apologies’

How to Be Sorry

June 30, 2010

blue soapbox  First: walk around with a sense of constitutional wrongness that makes you feel compelled to apologize all the time.  Be baffled that people tell you to quit saying you’re sorry.  Like prayer, like worry beads: what harm is it doing?

When others talk about how difficult it is to admit to being wrong, think to yourself, “Well, at least I’ve got that one covered!”

Begin to figure out that you do not have that one covered.

You’ve been doing your share of interfering, judging, interrupting, lecturing, resenting, gossiping, rolling your eyes, and generating negative energy in spite of all the apologetics.

Resolve to improve all around.  Find it amazingly hard to kick the apology-as-default habit.  Apologies have been helping you manage anxiety, and you haven’t found a good substitute.  Meanwhile, you have less of a clue how to be sorry for real than you’d like to admit.

Slowly get better at saying things like “you know, you might be right,” and meaning it.  Notice yourself becoming more curious, less agitated, about your missteps.  “My fault,” you are now able to say.  “I should have done x, and instead, I did y.  I’m going to try to do x next time.”  You concern yourself with learning all this rather than teaching it.

Notice something surprising: it’s become easier to apologize for your own misdeeds than to tell someone, graciously and effectively, that their behavior is bothering you.

Start to experiment.  Maybe someone you like has disappointed you, and you desperately want to avoid conflict by pretending everything is OK.  See what happens if instead, you say mildly, “I’m disappointed.  I’d made other plans and was late.”  Or:  “I felt a little judged when you said x just now.”

Or maybe you’ve spent some time with an acquaintance whose idea of conversation is to bombard you with grandiose rhetoric as if there’s no tomorrow.  You are itching to let off steam privately by complaining to someone else about this boorishness.  Instead, you tell the person directly that you feel talked down to.  You mention that you’d appreciate being asked about yourself occasionally.  You’re nice about it.

Notice that the person doesn’t attack you but, rather, agrees.  Notice that the behavior does not subsequently change.  Notice your sense of accomplishment anyway.

Slip back, sometimes, into pretending.  Slip back into sorry-hood.  But find yourself able to snap out of those states more quickly.  Notice that you’re not quite as anxious as you once were.

Of course, you’re still easily triggered by false apologies around you.  For example, you want to excoriate White House correspondent Helen Thomas for the shockingly ill-informed and ethnically tone-deaf comments she made recently about Israel and Jews—and for her then squandering a teachable moment on a Washington-politician-style statement of pseudo-regret.

In fact, you set out to write a column about Helen Thomas and her so-called apology, but wound up writing this instead.

Notice that you’re not sorry.

Published in The Piedmont Post, June 30, 2010

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