(339) I’m Sorry

I read this article the other day, and it occurred to me that maybe folks get fuzzy on what constitutes an apology. Like…I was scream-taught it on endless repeat as a child, but maybe this wasn’t everyone else’s experience. So, here are some guidelines for an apology:

1. I’m sorry I… followed by a verb of some sort, and definitely not involving a twisty displacement of ownership. If you’re going to apologize, apologize for your behavior. This does not include the other person’s feelings, your feelings, events, and/or qualifiers like ‘maybe’ or ‘might have’. Ownership either is or isn’t. You have zero claim to my feelings; your apology in that arena means absolutely nothing. You don’t have control over events. Your feelings are fine; you get to be angry or sad or happy or whatever. 
 Ownership is tricky in an apology because we often hate the idea that someone is upset with us, but get uncomfortable at the notion that anything we did warrants reflection and possibly guilt. It’s important to be honest about how a situation makes us feel. If we’re stressed that someone is upset with us, but not actually sorry for our behavior that led to the upset, then we need to say that rather than attempt to apologize for something we didn’t do.

2. Say what you should have done, why you should have done it that way, and how you plan on addressing this issue in the future.

3. Be accountable for that shit. Don’t spew ownership at someone and then sidefuck your intention right into the nearest shrubbery at your next opportunity. If the apology is sincere, follow through.

4. If your apology is met with criticism, hear it. Respect them enough to believe that they might be hurt for a legitimate reason, and heard something different in your apology than what you’d intended. If that respect isn’t there, then why are you apologizing in the first place?

What grabbed me about this article was the premise that men don’t apologize because they are less likely to think they’ve done anything wrong. (I mean…truer words, amirite?) If I think about all the never resolved conflicts in my life, the refusal to take ownership was the crux of all of them. One or both parties did not think they’d done anything wrong.

It’s complicated when a conflict gets to a point where both parties are injured (and many conflicts escalate to that point damn near right away); if our hurt isn’t addressed, we’re often not in a place where we can trust the other party to hear and respect our vulnerability when we take ownership for something. The injuries can trade off and overlap and pile onto each other until we’re lucky if we escape with a shred of our self-esteem. And the more involved our egos get, the more likely it is that our apologies will slide into passive aggressive bitterness and out of the realm of authentic ownership.

Granted, I should be no one’s guide for ownership. I steal responsibility for everything. I’m reasonably certain I cost a certain country a non-cheeto president because I am so incredibly bad at phone banking. I spent years trying to figure out what I could change about myself so that I wouldn’t be emotionally devastated every seven seconds by Captain Cornlaced Shitstain I mean my ex-boyfriend. I immediately want everything to be my fault, because then I can start fixing whatever needs to be fixed.

It’s not healthy.

It’s not honest, and it isn’t reflective of the self-care I work hard to prioritize in almost every other aspect of my life.

I’m working on it.

That said, scrutinizing a stressful or upsetting situation with self-critical eyes has helped me hear folks when they are hurt. Asking myself, ‘which part of this is on me?’ has made room for the people I love to tell me without running the risk of me becoming defensive and belligerent. It has allowed me the choice of deciding if I can take responsibility, if I can care about the relationship enough to embrace ownership for my impact, even if the feedback I am getting doesn’t match my own perception. It lets me put my empathy first without worrying that I will lose valuable parts of my character or stifle my growth as an independent individual.

So much of this article rang true about our stilted humanity for me. I’ve been stressing individual ownership since I met Facebook a decade ago, but what if ownership isn’t the issue? What if it’s our ability to find ownership in the first place? Let’s look a little harder. Let’s care in ways that have impact. Let’s be big enough to find ownership even when we are sure we don’t need to look.