Tuesday, January 11, 2011

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.


Blogger Amari said...

I absolutely LOVE this post. Laura, you have such insight! I think this is a wonderful idea, and I've had similar thoughts. In fact, I've been searching for a couple of old friends from my school days to apologize to them for my hurtful, childish behavior as well. When I consider the top 5 or 6 things that still hurt my heart to this day, this is on the list. Because of this, I try to teach my children that it's important to be kind to all of their classmates, not just the ones they're drawn to. If I have to drive past their school for some reason, I always hope to see them on the playground so that I can observe their interactions with other people. Sadly, when I see one of my daughters, she is usually playing alone (and she's the one with the most giggly nature and an extremely soft heart). Anyhow, I think it's time to search for those two lost friends once more so that I can get those apologies out!

6:47 AM  
Blogger Cara Meyers said...

I always love your blogs...but there are people I wish would apologize to me, starting with my husband. But that's a whole different matter.

I was shocked when, at my 20th High School Reunion, people would come up to me and embrace me like I was their long lost friend, yet they despised me and said hurtful things. I was, like, "Huh?" But I guess people eventually become adults. I have a FB "friend" who threatened to beat me up after school every week. I tried "unfriending" her twice, but for some reason, she keeps requesting to be my "friend," so I figured, let the past go. She's an adult now with her own kids. And she seemed to turn her ways around and be genuinely nice.

In the Jewish faith, it is customary to go to family and friends and ask them if you need to apologize for anything you may have done to hurt them in the previous year. One friend DID take that opportunity to tell me what was bothering her and we had a discussion about it and are now much closer because of this.

I think you should do it because it will make YOU feel good by doing it! And whether it feels silly or not, I can't think of one person who WOULDN'T like an apology or random act of kindness done to them!

Now as for my husband...oh never mind...

7:47 AM  
Blogger Jackie Shannon Hollis said...


I recently saw a woman I went all through school with, she mentioned having intentionally kicked me when playing soccer. I had NO memory of it, she did (especially because a visit to the principal was the result). It seemed good for her to talk about it and good for me to know her better. So I'm all for the apology. Bigger than this though was a recent reconnection to a dear friend who I turned my back on 17 years ago for reasons that only recently became clear. It was, at first, a very messy attempt to reconnect but in the end has become something wonderful and to be treasured.

I admire your intentionality (word?)...considering it and cleaning it up.

11:25 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I keep thinking of the movie "Billy Madison" where Adam Sandler calls and apologizes to Steve Buschemi for picking on him in high school and then Steve crosses his name off of the list of who to get rid of!!Lol I am a middle school teacher and kids can be so mean at this age. I remember getting teased by kids. I think these people will remember and think better of you for it!

8:34 PM  
Blogger Cyma Shapiro-Roland said...

Really great blog post. Love the awareness. Hopefully, we all reach this point in our lives. I reached it recently; I wish I'd reached it sooner. It's never too late.

3:39 PM  
Blogger rsinger said...

When my daughter was about 2 we saw an episode of some kids' show on PBS (which one? beats me!) and the whole lesson was about the Three Sorrys.

First you say I'm sorry for what you did, then you say what you're going to do to try to not do it again, then you say what you're going to do to make up for the wrong that you did.

We still follow this model seven years later. It does seem scripted even now, but it also gets us where we need to be.

Thanks Laura for this wise and heartfelt post.

6:02 AM  
Blogger eibanez.ernesto@gmail.com said...

That`s the modern life. It will be good for the children???

see my blog also

9:38 AM  

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