Why we need more apologies

By Caitlin Kelly

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Time doesn’t heal all wounds. A sincere apology is a lot better!

 

Years ago, I had a job that was, to put it plainly, a brutal experience — alternating between being bullied and ignored by bosses and colleagues alike. It was at a Big American Newspaper, one now half its size, but then a very big deal and a well-paid job in a dying industry.

But I wasn’t about to quit, no matter how terrible it was to survive.

Then, years after I left, I met one of those former bosses again in another situation, and was quite nervous about how he might behave.

To my shock — and gratitude — he apologized if he’d made things worse for me.

How rare it is to receive an apology!

Here’s a great piece on the subject from Elle magazine, which I found thanks to this blog:

I have never spoken this phrase. To anyone. Not a lover, not a friend. Not a bad boss or a vindictive colleague. This is not for lack of opportunity. I’m a black woman in America. I have been owed plenty of apologies.

I just never believed I deserved to demand one.

In the instant that I watched Serena’s firm command, I anxiously searched my consciousness to determine why, in my 33 years of living, I had never demanded an apology I believed I was owed. I have certainly expressed personal and professional grievances; I have given voice to hurt feelings and frustrated moments with greater intention as I’ve grown in confidence—a confidence which is hard earned.

But the idea that someone would need to affirm responsibility for their actions and impact on me had just never occurred to me. I have quietly carried the scars of apologies desired but never received, seething with resentment but never questioning why I didn’t demand an apology in the first place. I have always known, as seemingly all Black mothers say, that “closed mouths don’t get fed,” and that it is rare that anyone receives that which they do not ask for. Still, I had not formed my lips to utter the words: you owe me an apology.

How many times in your life have you just sat there, seething, when we should have demanded an immediate apology for someone else’s shitty behavior?

Most recently, I sat beside a woman at someone’s landmark birthday party (hardly the time for a confrontation!) who scared the hell out of me about the upcoming radiation for my DCIS.

I was a bit shell-shocked by her attitude (she’s a naturopath); we’re often slow and deeply reluctant to demand an apology since we don’t want to make a scene in public (oh, how bullies count on this!) and react like deer in the headlights, inwardly appalled, but passive and stunned in the moment.

 

Too stunned to say “Excuse me?!!!”

 

Not to mention all the powerful people, usually male, who set and enforce the rules. It’s damn near impossible to “demand” anything when your survival depends on shutting up and putting up with appalling behavior.

There’s a lot of Internet conversation right now about the many men — shunned for harassing women sexually at work — now crawling back demanding our forgiveness and more of our attention, like Canadian former broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi, American comedian Louis C.K. .and American broadcaster John Hockenberry.

I don’t really care for excuses, like “I don’t remember” because, unfortunately, I can’t forget some of the worst moments from my own life.

You can wait a long time, maybe forever, for some people to apologize, but it doesn’t mean giving other miscreants a pass just because it’s become your default.

 

Here’s a recent piece from The Atlantic about having a high school friend-turned-would-be-rapist eventually apologize:

 

A few minutes later, I saw him coming back; it was the boy who’d tried to rape me. He had tears in his eyes, and he seemed almost overwrought. And right there—in the A&S department store in the Smith Haven Mall—he apologized profusely.

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” I kept saying to him. “I forgive you, don’t worry.” It was a weird ambush of intense guilt and apology, and it was the wrong place and time—but the thing was, I really did forgive him. My life had moved on, and things were better. It felt good to get the apology and—as it always does—even better to forgive him. He’d done a terrible thing, but he’d done what he could to make it right.

 

Have you ever demanded an apology?

Did you receive it?

Was it sincere?

The power of apology

By Caitlin Kelly

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“I’m sorry.”

Two simple words — but impossible for some people to say.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the power of an apology, and its limitations.

As I head into the home stretch of the fall semester teaching college, a mix of freshmen and seniors, it’s been interesting dealing with a few students whose behaviors, whether selfish, short-sighted or just plain rude, seemed an obvious prelude to their prompt, sincere apology.

Hah!

One keeps wandering into our class late, apparently mistaking it for a 24-hour diner, something she can graze at will; only by informing her I would lock the classroom to the tardy did she get my point to arrive early or on time.

Another took a week to express regret for an outburst in class, after I emailed him and made clear how deeply offended I was.

Who raises these people?

But apologies are merely the opening statement, as some people are skilled at offering pretty, apparently sincere “sorry!” sound like something they actually mean.

Until they do the same thing again. And again. And again.

An apology worth its weight is one followed by the words: “It won’t happen again” — and the active proof of same. As a writer, I earn my living through words, but words impress me little. Action is what counts.

An apology also requires, even demands, the listener’s forgiveness, which itself requires their trust, relying on the very bond that’s been broken by bad behavior, whether the offender’s rudeness, insubordination, incompetence, forgetfulness, abuse, infidelity…

And some people can find offense in the mildest of statements, misreading tone or language as an insult when none was meant, plunging you into an abyss of faux repentance just to keep the peace.

I grew up around people who offered plenty of reasons to apologize for their behavior, but rarely did.

Apologizing isn’t easy, but it’s an essential skill, both personally and professionally. I’m fortunate enough to have been forgiven by most of those to whom I’ve apologized, and grateful when they have.

We all screw up. It’s what happens next that determines the outcome.

Have you ever refused to offer an apology?

Have you ever wanted one that never came?

Looking up old boyfriends

The holidays are a time of reflection and connection. But it’s also a time, for some of us, of poignant romantic regrets — the email or text ignored, the phone call or letter you never returned, the first date disaster or months of loneliness.

It’s the time many people look into the new year, only a week hence, and think...hmmmm. Some will wonder, still, about the one who got away.

Thanks to social media, it’s far too easy now to find former beaux (and belles.)

But should you?

Choosing: painting by first husband, George Fr...

I recently thought I’d try again to reach out to Big Name Architect — and found him on LinkedIn — a guy I first met when I was 22 and he was 44. Unbenownst to us that day, (both of us then living with others), we both came away smitten. I wrote a story about him and wandered off into the rest of my life. But he had set up an office near my New York home and, once or twice a year when visiting from Canada, would take me out for dinner.

After my husband walked out in 1994, BNA and I, then both single, flung ourselves into a heady affair, the age difference a little daunting, but perhaps worth a shot.

It got messy very quickly as he proposed marriage within only a few months and I was in that particular form of madness of the about-to-be-divorced,

His proposal was flattering, of course, although I was actually still married, barely separated from my husband after seven years. Rebound city.

It got so intense and overwhelming that I turned to my Dad — the same age as BNA — for advice. He agreed that this was not, despite all the surface glamour, a good fit for me. I do poorly with bossy men. He was, (albeit talented and charismatic), quite bossy.

So BNA promptly found and married someone else. When he replied to my recent email, after years of silence when I wrote emails he wouldn’t reply to, he told me triumphantly (?) he’s still married. Our messy ending still rankles him.

Another sweetie re-found me, or vice versa, on Facebook. Then a gorgeous, muscle-bound would-be Olympic rower at UNC Chapel Hill, we met on a student exchange. He wooed me in ways no one ever had — a huge bouquet of red roses delivered to my door, even giving me a lovely antique gold ring with three tiny diamonds. Losing it felt like losing a piece of my heart. He is remarried, as am I. I always wished the best for him and am so glad he is well and happy.

The man I lived with in my 20s reached out to me about a decade ago, apologizing — AA-style — for his transgressions against me. There actually hadn’t been any. They had been mine. But there he was. We broke up when he wanted, more than anything, to get married, to buy a cashmere overcoat and Make Money. All of which, when I was only 25 and desperate for adventure, seemed really boring.

His later life, and divorce, proved far bumpier and challenging than I’d ever imagined. He’s now working as a PI, which is pretty cool. We caught up last year for a long lunch and it was comforting to touch base with someone I liked very much, and loved, but felt fortunate not to have married.

Then, finally, I re-found my first true love on Facebook, whom I met at University of Toronto, when he was editor of the weekly school newspaper and I the eager young journo five years his junior. I’d sought him in vain for years using social media which he wasn’t using.

We, too, had reconnected right after my divorce, as he was coming out of his own first marriage. Neither of us had kids, but both of us were then still too bitter and angry about our spouses’ betrayals to be much use for one another than a fellow bruised survivor to commiserate with. Not terribly sexy, that.

Nor were we any better suited as long term partners than we had been in our college years.

But he’s still a sweetheart, a talented, interesting and creative person, and I look forward to seeing him again soon in Canada, and introducing him to my second husband. His second wife is an academic superstar and he’s now a late-life Dad. Cool!

Here’s a Canadian blogger’s memories of two ex-boyfriends:

I think of him every once in a blue moon, usually when I’m looking at a calendar. JASON. July, August, September, October, November.

Have you re-connected, successfully or otherwise, with a former love?

How did that work out?