As I have been processing these thoughts and ideas about speaking words, I’ve come to realize the main reason for exploring this vein of thoughts is centered around the idea of the balancing act required for optimal human living and interchange. That was the heart of my search for understanding in speaking fast and slow, and in writing about speaking with authority, I was searching for when I had the authority to speak into someone else’s life and when that was acceptable. The next step to explore is the apology but this is a polarizing idea. There are some who apologize too often. There are some who never apologize for anything. And there are some who have it down just right. I want to explore these identities and discover, for myself, the importance of apologies and their effectiveness in helping to balance out optimal human interchange.
Let me start with this: I believe apologies are a necessary and important function of relationship because humans tend to be selfish and short-sighted regarding others’ feelings. It is difficult to look past another’s eyes and see into their mind’s eye to know how they are interpreting an exchange. The other night, my wife crawled into bed and pulled the comforter over to her side; unbeknownst to her I had a drink sitting my chest and it tipped over, spilling out on myself and the bed. An innocent mistake, but even innocent mistakes bring about unnecessary anger. My anger was given away by my brooding silence as I got up to clean up; my wife took the comforter off the bed and went off in search of a blanket to replace it. I tried to tell her not to worry about it, but when she didn’t “listen” to me [i.e. hear me], I grew angrier [because I have unresolved things to sort out], and when she came back, my attempts to say, “Hey, I don’t feel like you listened to me. Just listen to me for once.” came out bitter and angry. But I felt completely justified unable to hear myself or her properly. My wife shut down and rolled over, going to bed. The next morning, as we spoke, I discovered she was still angry – to my complete surprise – she interpreted my words as, “Just do what I tell you – obey me.” I hadn’t meant that in the slightest but reflecting on it in a clean state of mind, I was able to see how much of an ass I must have been. The slight I felt was magnified into a greater slight for my wife. The night before I was bound and determined not to apologize for simply wanting to be heard. I had no idea the strength of my words in my anger and how my wife interpreted them. Faced with a new reality, I apologized because I realized the way I came across rather than the way I intended.
The origin of the word apology comes from the Greek idea “of a defense of one’s opinions or conduct and not an expression of remorse or guilt.” That’s a far cry from when I tell my son to apologize for hitting his sister – he’s not defending his conduct; I’m trying to get him to be remorseful for his conduct. It’s this distinction between the former meaning for apology and the more current meaning that I see as so interesting – people who do not apologize very often are much more likely to defend their opinions or actions, in a way, presenting the original idea of apology. And how often do we hear a public apology for the actions of a politician or celebrity, and feel a complete lack of remorse echoing from the orchestrated, carefully worded announcement? How often do we truly get apologies that offer remorse?
I’m more concerned with the intimate exchanges between people. The moments between coworkers who disagree. The fights between partners. The interactions between parents and children, brothers and sisters, friends and family. The truth is, we speak so many words every day without understanding the value assigned to them by those who hear them. I think about the fight with my wife and how she interpreted my words so disparately from what I intended them to be…how much differently do those to whom I haven’t dedicated the last 15 years of my life to interpret my words? Each person’s interpretation of another person’s words is based on the equation that develops from their own individual experiences and their experiences with that person. The unknown variable in that equation is the other person’s experiences – the side of the equation that is generally known is personal experience with that person – but even that part of the equation could be unknown. How they interpret it could be completely different.
When people have a different opinion about something, we dismiss it because that’s not how it feels to us. Our interpretation of events doesn’t translate it that way so there’s no way their point of view could be valid. This plays out when one person is offended or interprets an exchange with another in a different manner than the other intended. In that moment we often come to an impasse, because we don’t see eye to eye. There is no apology to be granted because [we feel like] there was no insult intended. Instead we tell people to get over it, to grow up, or to mature. Or we call them names. “Liberaltard”. “Conservadick”. [I recently discovered a “Conservative Insult Generator” which was sort of funny, until I saw its nickname: The Magic Hate Ball.]
We’ve always lived in a time where views of one side are markedly different than the other, it’s just that in this time more people have an opportunity to share than ever before so the contempt and spewing of hate seems louder than ever before. But the idea of touting a Magic Hate Ball to lob insults at people who don’t see the world like you do is the exact opposite of what I’m proposing when I write about apologies. Instead of working to see eye to eye, that good effort is replaced by tearing the other person down to shut them out of the conversation.
Do I apologize too often? Probably. Does that make me a “pushover”? Perhaps. But I’d rather be on good terms with someone whose beliefs I don’t agree with so that we could have more fully developed conversations about the things we disagree about. I’d rather be wrong and have full relationships than right and everyone angry with me.
Living is messy. Our lives intersect and there are major differences in how we think, view, and respond to things and those complications can cause chaos. And throughout that chaos, it’s important to find peace and peace comes from stopping, looking, and responding with an apology.
I’m sure the response to this is, “Well, then you’re just getting rolled over.” And sure, it can feel that way – I guess it depends on the relationship, and again, the level of authority that you’ve granted and the other person has granted you. This is a balancing act; I’m not saying that we need to be running around apologizing for everything. But I do think we need to be more aware of our actions and our words and how that affects people and that we need to be more readily willing to apologize for those things. We need to be more willing to see eye to eye and find the balance and harmony that comes from hearing each other out and understanding when we’ve misinterpreted or been misinterpreted. And then apologize.
Because what does it hurt to say, “I’m sorry.”?
 This definition pulled from: http://www.worldwidewords.org/topicalwords/tw-apo1.htm