Wednesday, December 15, 2010

no apologies

I wonder when the word "apology" in the modern, English usage changed from the Greek apologia meaning (basically a defense).

We have this word "apologist" that we use to describe a person who writes or speaks in defense of an idea: CS Lewis is a great example of a popular culture Christian apologist.

But our noun "apology" or verb "to apologize" is a different bird.

I've known people in my life that apologize all the time, for everything...I find myself saying "I don't want you to be sorry...I don't want you to say "sorry"..."

And I've known people that cannot seem to say their sorry, even when they kick the dog (metaphorically).

What I don't get is why there isn't any sort of standard understanding of what it means to apologize, how it works, how one is supposed to respond to an apology...

I dated a young woman who suggested that I should apologize if her feelings were hurt, whether such hurt was my intention or was a powerful suggestion and I have incorporated it into my life in the years since.  It sometimes leads to an apology like this:

I'm sorry that you are upset.  It was not my intention to
hurt you, and I'm trying to understand what happened
in this case so that I can avoid that in the future.

Some people resent this sort of apology; to them it may sound to similar to the non-apology that goes "I'm sorry, but...".  The "but" is the problem.

A lesson that took me a long time to learn was that relationships are hard.  We all hurt each other all the time, generally in unintentional and unaware ways.  This isn't cynicism or "darkness" in my perspective; it's a realization that proceeds from something like the NTTATS theory...we experience life in nuanced ways that differ from those around us.  We hear things in "the tone" of people speaking to us that they may not be aware of; we perceive slights and social awkwardness in a way particular to our lifelong collected conditioning.

So what to do?  My therapist (it's been a few years since I sat on the couch) suggested that in my own life I needed to find the "sensitivity dial" and roll it back a few levels.  Apparently mine "goes to 11" and to function in the outside world you need to be set around 5...too much higher and you are a bundle of perceived hurts; too much lower and you are a sociopath.

In honor of the holiday season and all that it brings, I'm going to tweak my dial and shoot for these two goals:

  1. have my apology engine cranked up and ready to go
  2. lower my expectations for apologies from everybody else

it may be obvious but I'm experimenting with embedded videos!

1 comment:

  1. This book about Stoicism and the possibility of living a Stoic life in the modern day suggests that a lot of the successful application of the concepts will require just such a dial tweakage. Good stuff!