Apologies Are Easy

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 6.03% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

I screwed up in an essay I wrote last week, and apologized for it yesterday.  I apologize a lot in this blog; that’s not because I screw up disproportionately, but because I feel no shame about apologizing.
And for that, I can thank my family.
My Mom, Dad, and Uncle Tommy taught me that the apology was but one half of a transaction.  The other half was where the person I’d wronged swallowed the anger and hurt they felt, and accepted the apology, and promised not to bring this up again unless it was absolutely necessary.  (Because if I’d apologized every time I’d left the peanut butter out where the dog could get at it, and the dog had now eaten seven jars of peanut butter, it’s time to bring up past sins in an attempt to fix future dog-related peanut butter poop disasters.)
So for me, an apology is something that’s rightfully owed.  And as it turns out, apologies are terribly helpful in real life.
What an apology means to most people is, “I acknowledge you were hurt by something stupid I did, and I feel bad about hurting you.”  When you give that sort of powerful acknowledgement, it often doesn’t matter what you did – the person feels respected, and heard, and so the inciting incident is forgotten.  (Maybe not right away, but the anger evaporates and the respect they garnered for you remains.)
So apologizing has helped me a lot.  Being able to go “My bad, I’m sorry” and have it be a trivial thing has let me get along with a lot of people.  Because I’m outspoken, and occasionally arrogant, and if I wasn’t able to go, “Yeah, I shouldn’t have done that” at the drop of a hat, then my career probably would have cratered.
But other families taught different lessons.  The lesson they taught was that apologizing handed your family a club to use for as long as they cared to.  An apology was a sign of weakness, and to apologize was to expose your tender underbelly.  So to apologize meant that your family would forever enumerate your sins, because hey, you admitted this was wrong, this means we’ve got a free ticket to always remind you of how stupid you were.
And for people like that, apologies come hard.  To apologize is, in a very real sense, to give up a part of yourself for all time.  So they apologize only when social pressure and evidence heaps up to the point where an apology gets squeezed out of them.
And that’s harmful, in the long run.  Because yeah, there are occasional jerks out there, like their family, who treat every excuse with sneering triumph, raising the apology like a trophy and hoisting it to all.  But most people?  They get the apology, they make a note to be a little wary of you in the future, and move on.  And if you’re sufficiently nice and/or competent going forward, that apology will slough off like a scab.
Whereas I’ve seen the folks who can’t apologize, and good Lord their whole lives are shaped by it.  Their world seems like a constant assault on Normandy Beach, piling up excuses for when they need them, angry denials, shifting blame elsewhere because good God it can’t possibly be that they did wrong.
And it seems like so much work.
I’ll freely admit when I’m wrong.  That, I believe, is a strength.  And I’m really happy my family had the wisdom to guide me in the proper direction on that.

4 Comments

  1. Joyful Girl
    Apr 30, 2014

    Amen to that! I also see this difference in company cultures. I thrive working for a company where owning my mistakes is respected as a sign of good leadership, and apologies when due build better relationships. In contrast, I’ve seen my spouse work in environments where it’s not safe to ever admit wrongdoing, as it will be used against the employee forever. So people make excuses and pass blame, which ultimately makes everyone more miserable. It’s liberating to freely acknowdelge my shortcomings and be compassionate about other people’s.

  2. P
    Apr 30, 2014

    If you need to apologise, it means you have done something you should not have done.
    It is better to have not done the thing in the first place, than to do it and apologise afterwards.
    Perhaps you should, instead of apologising, work on not being so ‘outspoken, and occasionally arrogant’ in the first place?
    Because there is shame in apologising. If you need to apologise, it means you have done something you should be ashamed of.
    Don’t feel proud of apologising. Feel ashamed, and use that shame to work on changing yourself so you don’t need to apologise.

    • TheFerrett
      Apr 30, 2014

      If you need to apologise, it means you have done something you should be ashamed of.
      No. It means you’ve done something wrong, and it’s sad folks like you who fuck it up.
      Quite often, the thing you did was something you couldn’t have known better, and in that case it may be awful but “shame” is hard to feel when it stems from innocence. And to expect perfection from someone is to tell someone, “Take no chances, ever, never grow, never try anything new.”
      Basically, the act brings shame, yes. But to be so dumb as to say that apologizing brings shame is to conflate two important facts, and to expect an insane level of perfection that no one will ever actually achieve.

    • TheFerrett
      Apr 30, 2014

      What I’d feel shame at is leaving a fake email address, being so cowardly as to not even want a discussion on the matter. That’s kinda shameful.

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