Small Thoughts for a Quiet World.

Note to Self: Apologize.

1994: I'm in a high school English class, and we're doing a little mock debate thing where we discuss...something. It's been thirty years and I don't really remember the topic at hand. But in my zeal to make my point about...whatever it was, I told one of my classmates “no, shut up...” and talked over her.

2008: I'm having a bad day. I'm at work and a friend of mine tells me that he just tried something new technologically. Since I'm having a bad day I vehemently explain why I think what he tried was a bad idea.

There are a few similarities between these two events.

  1. I acted badly in both of them.
  2. I insisted on my point of view being acknowledged as “right”,
  3. Whenever I thought about either of these events I felt terrible. For years.

Let's fast forward to roughly 2010. I find my friend from that first story, the high school one, on Facebook. I haven't seen her in person since 1998, but I have felt an almost physical twinge of shame every time I thought about what I said to her in that moment in English class. So I send her a little private note, apologizing for talking over her, telling her to shut up, and so forth. I ask her to forgive me, which she does. And she says that she doesn't even remember the event in question. And—being the kind person she is— she suggests that I have over-inflated the event in my mind and that it certainly wasn't as bad as I thought it was.

A year or two later I apologize to my other friend for making light of his technological activity. Similar story, he insists that he doesn't remember my comment but gladly forgives me.

The main lesson I learned from these two events is this: Since the time I apologized to my friends I can still remember the dumb way I acted toward both of them. I can still remember the pain I caused and the shame I felt. But now I can remember those events without the pain of that shame. I remember the lesson I learned from those bad things I did, and I have an extra little reminder that apologizing is an important activity in human life.

A “man am I stupid” corollary lesson is this: Why on earth did it take me years of pain and regret to apologize to my second friend? Unlike the first story, I was still in regular contact with him. I could have apologized at any time. I could have apologized in the moment when I caused harm instead of waiting until he had apparently forgotten.

It is Better to be Kind Than to be Right

In both of these events I was certain in the moment that I was right, that whatever I had to say was the truth and that my friend was in error. But as I write this I'm not clear on the details of either interaction. I don't know what timeless truth I was defending in either story. What I do remember is that I imposed my will on someone else, I put some supposed “truth” above the feelings of another. I wish I could say I have never done that again. I wish I could say that it only took me two mistakes to correct my behavior.

I guess I could lie and say that, but wow that would be an awfully transparent lie. I still make this mistake all the time. I still make every mistake all the time. I'm a deeply flawed person. But one thing that I try to remind myself of on the regular is the heading of this section: It is better to be kind than to be right. If you can, be both. But if you have to choose, my experience says that you will have fewer regrets if you choose to be kind. In fact, I have never regretted being kind. I have often regretted insisting that I am right.

Get Better at Apologizing.

Learn how to do it right. Practice apologizing, and learn how to cut all the nonsense out of apologies.

We all know the classic “non-apology” that goes something like

“I'm sorry you took offense at what I said or did”.

That is worse than not apologizing and will not grant you nor the other person any peace or ability to move on. So learn to resist that form of speech.

Learn to stop trying to forgive yourself in apologies. “I only did/said it because X” isn't part of an apology. Leave it out. If they ask, or when you are on better terms, maybe the two of you can talk about what happened and why. But when you are apologizing, just own your mistake.

Apologize in simple words.

“I am sorry that I did/said X. I was wrong. I know that I hurt you with my words(or actions) and I am sorry.”

Then stop talking.

Don't request forgiveness. If you are already on good terms with the person you might be okay to add something like “I hope you can forgive me” but in general, leave it out. It feels like you're placing a moral requirement on them, almost giving yourself a reason to be angry at them.

“I apologized and you didn't forgive me so now you are the bad guy.”

Don't do that. Let them decide if they are in a place where they can forgive you.

Practice. Keep working on apologies. We all have endless opportunities and need to apologize. Let's all get better at it.

Lastly, please remember that I'm writing this to myself and letting you all read it.
I am in no position to judge anybody on earth. Nor do I want to. The only person I can judge is me.

If you find my comments to myself of any value, I am glad.


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