Living unapologetically empowers others too

Several weeks ago I uttered the worst sentence in the English language. I said “That’s OK” when really it was not. It was not OK to me and it was not OK for the person to do what they did…

I had been taking money at a dance event when a guy tried to sneak in. He was being kind of an asshole about it. He said he just wanted to come in and watch. I charge everyone and eventually he gave up and joined his friend at the bar.

A short while later the event host talked to the men at the bar and then motioned to me to let them in. As they walked past me, the guy who had tried to sneak in suddenly turned and kissed me on the cheek. It was totally inappropriate! It felt like an assault to my personal space and I felt vulnerable and exposed. #metoo

His friend came to me and said “I apologize for my friend here” and I said

OK

It is a natural response of course, but it closed off the dialogue that what he did is not, in fact, OK. It was demeaning and dismissive. I work with women to create more confidence so that they are not dismissed. But in that setting I was not able to generate that confidence for myself. I let my voice stay silent. This happened weeks ago and I still feel gross about it.

I do appreciate that the guy who apologized understood that it was not appropriate and that I probably felt attacked to an extent. So what are the alternatives? Without starting a fight, which is not in my nature, I wish I had said something that gave us both an opportunity for growth.

An apology doesn’t acknowledge the injured party. It simply asks for forgiveness. So what could have been different. He could have said “Thank you for letting us in and being patient with my friend. He is not behaving well.” Or after he apologized for his friend I could have said “Well, it really is never OK to treat another person that way. Please tell him that what he did was not appropriate and that he is the one who should apologize.” Possibly I could have opened a conversation for deeper understanding why a man would treat a woman that way or requested compassion. “You apologize for your friend, but imagine how it really feels to stand in my shoes. Things like this happen to women all the time and if it feels OK to treat a woman that way once, it is easy to bring that attitude to the way you treat all women.”

There is a flip side to this dialogue as well. I am in the habit of apologizing a lot. For instance when a friend asked if I would join him on a shopping excursion I said I wouldn’t go. My impulse was to apologize but instead I said “Thank you for being understanding that I need some time to take care of things at home”. When I was taking a long time to understand what my client wanted me to do I acknowledged their patience and trust in my abilities. In the end the other person feels better for their role in the interaction. They get to be great and so do I.

Acknowledgement, from an honest and heartfelt place, is a powerful interaction that leaves both individuals feeling empowered.