I am not a judgmental person, anyone who truly knows me can attest to that. I know that everyone has a story and we are all deserving of the benefit of the doubt – there is always just so much we don’t know. And yet, my NonTraditional Narcissism (i.e., unwavering support of nontraditional choices) flares up when I stop and think about apologies.
We keep hearing people say they are ‘unapologetic’ about who they are and somehow this has become synonymous with never having to apologize at all. I’ve said it before but I will say it again and again – being unapologetic about who you are is not the same as being unapologetic for what you do and say. No one should ever have to apologize for who they are as a person, the choices they make in their own lives, or whom they chose to love. But we are all responsible for our own words and actions, and how they affect other people. Always.
The biggest issue I hear in this debate is “intention” – if by being myself, I hurt someone ‘unintentionally’ then I do not have to apologize (i.e., I was just being my unapologetic self). This logic is terribly flawed for so many reasons, but mainly because the need for an apology has little to do with the intention of the harmer and more to do with the experience of the one being harmed.
Our job is to say, “If I did or said something, intentional or not, that hurt you – tell me – and I will listen, do my best to understand, explain that although that was never my intention, I am truly sorry that my choice of words and/or actions caused you harm, and I will try my hardest to make sure I never do or say that which hurt you again.” Period.
There is not a single person in this world that is exempt from that kind of apology, ever.
And here is the thing about apologizing for unintentional (or hell, even intentional) harm – it’s gold. Better than gold, even. It’s the only way we are able to maintain and strengthen relationships – of any kind. People argue, people have differences of opinions, people grow apart…the only way to even entertain the idea of a clean slate, is with an apology.
It is hard to own responsibility for the things we do that hurt people we care about, because we hold on so tightly to that concept of intention – we didn’t MEAN to do it, so let’s just move past it. The thing is, you can’t side-step that hurt, the only way is through. You have to face it head on, acknowledge what pain you caused, and be sincere when you say you will try your best to not repeat the situation in the future.
And as the recipient of an apology, you must remain open. Nothing compares to a genuine apology, nothing. You can spot them a mile away and you know when they’re anything but – so don’t turn your back on the good ones, they are fewer and father between then they ever should be.
The thing about harm is that it cannot heal until someone gives voice to it. When we consider that concept of ‘intention’ again, we have to realize that most harm caused is done so unintentionally, and therefore spontaneous apologies are unlikely to occur – 90% of the time we just don’t realize we caused harm and therefore need to apologize.
Speaking up about the things that hurt us is bravery personified; apologizing and accepting an apology are two of the most courageous acts we do as humans.
When we learn that we’ve caused harm, we are never more terrified than when we reach out our hand and say, “I’m sorry, can we try again?” What if the answer is no? What if the harm caused is irreparable? What if our words or actions closed that door for good?
And when we hear that apology from someone we care about, we are equally as terrified to say, “Thank you, yes, let’s try again.” What if they aren’t sincere? What if we get hurt again? What will happen if we re-open that door?
We have all had the experience of being hurt and we have all had the experience of causing harm, and we often fear that admitting either is an admittance of being wrong – being wrong in our feelings, being wrong in our choice of words and/or actions, and being wrong for speaking up on either side. And so much of the time the fear of being wrong outweighs the desire to alleviate the harm caused or start the healing.
And yet, the fear around apologies is simply fear of vulnerability. Showing up without our armor on, admitting we didn’t fight fair in the last battle, and asking to still hold space beside someone on the battlefield – that is the journey of the love warrior.