I have gotten into a new habit over the past year. It is a welcome habit, to discourage people from having to apologize to me. For months, I’ve been done with needing to hear “I’m sorry.” I am just choosing to sit down and blog-reflect on it this first weekend of the new year. (I could say that it is a 2012 resolution, but it’s a change in life that harkens back to summer 2011.)
Apologies are so pervasive that the two-worded combo is oftentimes an email’s first line, the first words of a phone call, and the s-word is what accompanies a hug or handshake when I see someone in person. I would much rather have you express the joy in your voice, or have you tell me what is genuinely on your heart or mind — than have you resort to an over-used refrain to apologize. Being hung up on how long it has been, what you haven’t done or what you should have done does not serve you or me. So let’s choose to be free from it in our vernacular. There are so many under-used and beautiful words, so please express something other than regret.
Apologies have became a de facto salutation in a culture, saturated with the twins of over-extension and assigning blame, which pervades our lives and our work. (Honestly, we are not just overdoing it in the professional realm, we are frantic in our weekends, sleeping patterns, eating and multimedia, too). Self-blame is the cultural triplet, but that writing — of punishing ourselves, or being nasty to ourselves in way’s that we would not dare do to others — is for some other day.
When I told one friend about it in the Fall, she remarked how i had become “the most radical person at this moment of [her] life.” It feels pretty simple. And it has altered how I listen to other people when they blithely state I’m sorry. I prefer to not have meaningless words exchanged if we do not mean what we say, and say what we mean.
I’ve changed my own habit in a few key steps:
- To catch myself before uttering the s-word.
- Sit with my own discomfort in the awkward silence that follows. It is doubly awkward in a period following that I must have done something to spur the impulse to apologize.
- In that in-between-quiet, notice what is actually happening for me.
- Then choose to speak or not speak based on what I feel.
These four steps have cleaned up a lot of my exchanges. I embrace silence much more. I no longer feel bad about quiet; oftentimes, it is a welcome relief especially in the presence of other humans. There is a different type of experience when we are in one another’s proximity without having to talk to, and talk at one another. Silence is not scary or awkward like I used to find it.
The times that I fuck up, I acknowledge it in more creative ways than that tired refrain of “I’m sorry.” Some of the different things that I do are that I sit in silence. Or I ask ‘How are you feeling by what I just said/did?’ or simply, “What’s going on for you right now?” Asking questions is a very different way to invite a response. I used to get defensive much more as I attempted to climb out of a hole, yet my talking only caused me to dig myself into a deeper hole.
Over the years, there were countless times that I have said, “Sorry.” and did not mean it one bit. There are instances when I have apologized because I felt that it was what I thought someone else wanted to hear. I had no clue what was going on inside of that another person, but I said it anyway. I was acting something out (of habit) because I had convinced myself that what I could say was what they wanted to hear. With no real sense that it was what they wanted, or needed, in that moment.
I realized that my apology-reflex over the years was serving me. There have been phases in my life where I was addicted to apologizing. It was the tail-end of a cycle of acting hastily, recklessly and absent-mindedly. Frequently, acting so absent-mindedly resulted in some action, behavior or words that I came to regret. Acting so hastily resulted in me saying more words per day, and being more hasty each day, too. With each day filled with more busyness, I increased the probability of having more things to regret. And regrets were followed by more apologies.
So many apologies that the short sentence of “I’m sorry.” became meaningless for me.
I am delighted that I have slowed that impulse to instinctively apologize. What was unseen and unexplored in my inner psychology has become much more visible than it used to be. I started with myself, and then begin to request it from others. I do not need your apology for what you did — even when it hurt, upset or even when you insult me. I would much rather have to sit quietly, and get to see what I choose to say (or not say) afterwards. In the meantime, if you feel compelled to speak tell me why you did/said/felt what you did then please do so.
Then we can go from there.