Apologies — by Laura Houston
This year I decided to apologize to some of the people I have selfishly and needlessly hurt with intent. Most of these people loom in my junior high school and high school history, and I never would have given them a second thought if it weren’t for Facebook. To perpetuate the shame, they friended me even though I tried to avoid them, and they sent me cheery emails telling me how great it was to be in touch again and that my sons are really cute. I thought to myself, Good Lord, doesn’t anyone carry a grudge any more? But there they are every day in my news feed, saying witty things about their happy lives and it makes me feel bad about my behavior.
As an adult, I rarely do things I am ashamed of. There is no one I would ever want to hurt. Even people I don’t particularly like who have caused great trouble or great expense for me are not worth the wrath of anger I want to unleash. I realize they are unhappy human beings, and there is nothing I could do to them that they have not done to themselves. Also, I am more self-aware now, and I try to think things through as best I can then if I fail or falter, I can forgive myself for being human.
I certainly was not self aware when I was 13. Few of us are. We naturally grow into our awake and heightened state. But now that I have become a mother, some of my previous behaviors have come back to haunt me. You see, over and over again I keep picturing the people I hurt going to their mothers and telling them what I did, then I think of the mother’s reaction – her horror over some mindless, stupid kid breaking her child’s heart like that. I wish I could apologize to both parties.
So here I go. I have typed up the four letters I need to send, but I am finding it very hard to hit send. Why? Because if someone sent me a letter of apology for something they did to me in the seventh grade I would think this: “This person is crazy and has too much time on their hands.” Chances are I have forgotten the indiscretions again me from so long ago, and I don’t want to revisit them. But at the same time I think, huh, these people I have hurt deserve an apology. And when I apologize, it will be very difficult NOT to explain why I behaved the way I did. There is no excuse for bad, mean girl behavior. I know this. But still, I want to say, “It wasn’t my idea,” or “I was jealous of you.” But I won’t. That’s not a proper apology. Injecting excuses nullifies the act of saying sorry.
Apologies are a challenging thing for me on both ends. Most people don’t know how to make them if they make them at all, and even more people don’t know how to take them. They see an apology as a weakness and as an opportunity to unload their anger and hurt, furthering their perception of their own victimhood. Or they suck at the delivery of an apology. My husband and I had to practice how to apologize to get it right. His standard apology was this: “I’m sorry you think I hurt your feelings.” I would get so mad at him the fight would start all over. But then I sat down and explained to him that was not an apology at all. It was a passive-aggressive maneuver and a lame excuse to avoid confronting his behavior. And surprisingly he agreed.
I had to learn a few things, too. No sarcastic apologies. No flippant, dismissive apologies just to make the situation go away. So now my husband and I practice apologizing to one another in a good and meaningful way. We have a process that seems scripted where we first make a genuine apology, and acknowledge that this should not happen again and steps will be made to prevent it. We can’t make excuses, and we can only explain if asked. Then we have to let it sit until forgiveness is present. This may seem forced, but it makes the offender prove awareness of their actions in a situation, and this is very helpful to the person who is hurt.
Artful, heartfelt apologies are a skill I want my kids to have. I want them to learn from their mistakes and express regret to the people they hurt, so I have to do the same. So here I go. In the next few days I will be apologizing for thoughtlessness, for stupidity, for my genuine meanness and ill intent, and for being a big, giant boob to people 20 years in my past who did not deserve it. And if my apology annoys anyone, well, I’ll have a long debate on whether or not I need to apologize for that, too.