So Sorry

Today Hannah closed her playroom door just as Luke was sprinting to catch up with her to enter the room at her heels.  The closing door bopped him in the nose.  He screamed as he fell over backwards.  She opened the door, confused as to what happened since unbeknownst to her he had snuck up behind her.  In her book, she had done nothing wrong.  So she looked down at him crying on the floor, knelt down next to him, and said, “You know, Luke, you really should be more careful.”  And she turned around and went back into her playroom.

Luke meanwhile picked himself back up onto his feet and knocked on the closed door tears still wet on his face.  She opened the door and looked at his sad face and let him in.  I followed him into her room and said, “You know Hannah, maybe you should say you’re sorry for shutting the door in his face.”

“I didn’t know I closed the door in his face.” she said.

“Even if you didn’t know you did it, you still hurt him and it would make him feel better to hear you say you’re sorry.  It’s the nice thing to say.”

“I won’t say I’m sorry for something I didn’t mean to do.”  was her astoundingly mature response.

It actually made me stop and think.  I am someone who jumps to apologize.  I tend to over apologize.  As you may recall, I detest conflict.  I will take every measure to assure things are smoothed out. I assume apologies do wonders to make people feel better… even if there’s nothing to feel better about.  I assume it can’t hurt to apologize, right?

But sometimes, I jump to apologize when really, I’ve done nothing wrong.  I recall an example 8 or so years ago (I recall because Tim brings it up All The Time).  Tim and I were visiting my parents and my brother was there with his then 1 year old daughter.  I had just taken a picture of my new niece with my brother’s new camera and after I snapped the photo, I placed the camera on the kitchen table.  Minutes later, my niece pulled the camera off the table, onto the floor.  I saw a piece of camera roll away from the larger piece and I am pretty sure I saw some steam come out of my brother’s ears. He gave me a look and stormed away.  I felt awful.  But I didn’t think it was my fault.  It’s not like I had handed my niece the camera and said, “here you go, have fun with this!”  But I knew my brother was angry and I was sure he was blaming me.  So I apologized.  For putting the camera on the table, possibly too close to the edge, in the same room that his daughter happened to be standing.  And after that, things were fine.  I felt better.  He felt better. But Tim, who had witnessed this whole thing, thought it was ridiculous.  Ridiculous that I’d apologize for something that in his mind was clearly an accident.  To this day, I still stand by my apology, but wonder if it’s what most people would do.

I am sensitive.  Sensitive to people’s feelings. Sensitive with my own.  Just like I don’t like to have my feelings hurt, I’m extra careful to not hurt others.  And if I think I did, I’ll be the first to ask them if I did and make a thoughtful apology.  But sometimes, I make an ass of myself because I apologize assuming I’ve hurt someone’s feelings when there was just some silly miscommunication and they look at me like I’m totally Nutso.  More than once in my short life in this blog world, I’ve apologized for comments I’ve left thinking I may have offended the poster based on my impression when I go back and reread it.  Or based on a lack of response.  And each time, the poster has contacted me telling me I’m being silly.  And then I feel like a lame-ass.  But I am left to wonder if I’d feel worse not knowing.  Not knowing if my unintentionally harsh words were read as offensive.

Some people are really bad at saying they are sorry.  I’ve been pummeled with a tennis ball at close range (by accident I think) and my opponent, the one who smacked the shit out of the ball right into me, said nothing.  I guess they just felt it’s understood it was an accident and I was in the wrong place at the wrong time so no apology necessary.  The enormous purple welt on my thigh begged to differ. I’ve also had someone say something so insensitive to me that I literally had to immediately get up and walk away.  And when later I told them that I was hurt, they still didn’t say they were sorry.  They said they didn’t mean to hurt me.  But no apology.  Huh?  No apology?   I strive to NOT do this.  And I’d rather err on the side of jumping the gun with my apology than never owning up.

Is apologizing too quickly as sign of weakness?  Is not apologizing for “accidents” a sign of confidence?  Is it so hard to say you’re sorry if you know it will make the other person feel better?  I sometimes tell Tim when he hurts my feelings that I’d  appreciate an apology.  He often won’t apologize because he doesn’t think he did anything wrong and apologizing admits fault.  It’s a back and forth that never ends well.  We just agree to disagree.  When I think I’m right and don’t think I’ve done anything wrong, I still apologize for hurting his feelings.  I’m not admitting fault.  I’m empathizing.  It makes me feel good.

This is the lesson that I ended up teaching Hannah today after unintentionally slamming her door on her little brother.  I told her she was right, she didn’t mean to hurt him but she could let him know she was sorry she didn’t see him coming.  I told her it feels good to say you’re sorry. People like to hear those words.

And if you don’t.  I’m sorry for saying them.

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15 Comments

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15 responses to “So Sorry

  1. crnnoel

    This is such a tough one, because I – like you – apologize for everything. Fynn’s starting to do the same thing, if I knock one of his trains over by accident he apologizes to me. It’s getting a little insane around here with the apologies…

  2. I find this to be a really interesting question. Is apologizing too much a sign of strength or weakness or neither? What does it mean to apologize *too* much? I often find myself saying “sorry” under my breath or aloud at bizarre times when there is really nothing to apologize for. You have me wondering whether this is a feminine trait akin to raising our voices at the end of sentences? I don’t pretend to know. But I think this is something important to consider especially since so many of us are trying our best to raise kids who are polite and aware.

    Thanks for making me think this morning!

  3. I’m nodding my head in recognition over here. I apologize often, even for things I didn’t mean to do.

    I’m the chick who, when rammed by someone else’s grocery cart, immediately whips around to apologize for being in the way. WTF?

    Miss D. also often has the same response as Hannah. She will accidentally hurt her sister, and gets a little indignant when I insist she apologize.

    And I do still insist that she apologize. In our house, we’ve compromised on, “I’m sorry you were hurt.”

    And the camera incident? I totally would have apologized.

    Great post!

    • I also would apologize for the shopping cart thing! I guess I hope that they’ll say, “that’s ok” but then when they don’t and instead nod in agreement that I should have gotten out of their way, I want to ram them back.

      It makes me wonder if part of my reason for apologizing is to hear forgiveness. I guess I’m looking to feel better by apologizing and unless I’m forgiven, I don’t.

  4. I jump to apologize, too. I want to make things right. Sometimes I don’t know what else to say but “I’m sorry.”

  5. Tamara

    An advice article by a top level executive – woman – said that women, as a whole, tend to apologize too much and it is looked at as a sign of weakness by men. And by saying we are sorry, they determine we were in the wrong, even if we weren’t.

    I, too, said I’m sorry a LOT, and after reading that article, I stop myself from saying it and especially typing it in an e-mail. I try to stop and think about the situation before I decide if I need to apologize.

    With my son’s little boo-boos, I say “Oh, that must have hurt. Are you okay?” instead of “I’m sorry you got hurt.”

    I don’t think it’s bad to say “sorry” and to teach children to apologize right along with please and thank you, but I am careful as to what I make him apologize for.

    • This advice article that you mention doesn’t surprise me. I sometimes think that by apologizing people feel entitled to believe we were in the wrong even if we were just being empathetic or “nice”. I think I need to think a little harder about WHAT I’m apologizing for before I apologize and maybe reword my thought to be something besides “I’m sorry.”

      Thanks for your comment Tamara!

  6. You’re teaching the big stuff today. Meanwhile my discussion with Diva is how you go potty when wearing a skirt. 😉

    I have to say if I have done something to hurt someone physically on accident I will say I am sorry…I am sorry that they got hurt. As for the apologizing when I have offended someone by how I think or feel is never going to happen. I am stubborn and will stand my ground forever if I have to. Probably to a fault…Just ask my hubby!

    • Good for you for sticking your ground. You should never apologize for your feelings or your opinion… I do at times and it’s something I’m trying to change! Thanks for coming by!

  7. Good thoughts, Becca. Apologizing is a tough one, and surely a sign of the inherent difference between men and women. From experiences in my own life I would deduce that men just don’t THINK to apologize for things like women do. And from that I would deduce that women tend to have “making others feel better” closer to the top of their list of important things in life.

    Apologizing DOES make us feel better. Getting and giving. Maybe you didn’t MEAN to smack someone upside the head with your tennis racket during a match, but you did. So just say sorry. Even say, “I really didn’t mean to do that and didn’t realize you were so close to me, but I’m sorry you got hurt.” (for instance)

    And maybe you hurt someone’s feelings unintentionally or caused the demise of their camera UNINTENTIONALLY but I think there is always a graceful way to acknowledge that you feel badly about it. And feeling badly about it–and being honest about it–does not admit fault. If men believe this, they are idiots. And if men believe this, they are pigeon-holing themselves as the more insensitive species. Boo.

    Hmm. I feel like I sound too harsh here. Oh well. Not going to apologize for that!

    One last thing: honesty. Being honest takes front and center. Empty apologies are probably worse than abundant ones. So being honest and meaning what you say are key to life, sensitivity to others, and awareness of our self and others.

    Right. Off to make dinner. Though I might have to apologize to the kids for ANOTHER lame dinner tonight.

    • Here Here Sarah. I could not agree more. Especially the honesty part. Empty apologies are even worse than empty Thank You’s in my book. Thanks so much for ALL these thoughts.

      And I will NEVER apologize for what I cook unless someone else (ANYONE else) ever offers to do the cooking instead of me!

    • I too say Here Here to your comment, Sarah. Especially your words about intention/fault not being equal to regret.

      I have people in my life who only apologize based upon fault. But whether or not it was your intention to hurt my feelings or your fault that I was hit in the head with a tennis racket/door/condescending comment, if you feel badly at all that I was hurt by said racket/door/comment, you should apologize.

      Like other commenters here, I’m a profuse apologizer. And I think (hope?) that it doesn’t convey weakness. I like to believe (perhaps naively) that it conveys sensitivity and intuition about what another person is feeling.

      Thanks for this great post.

  8. Hmm. Should I apologize because that comment was like a novel?

    Sorry.

  9. I’m the same way and sometimes I feel like such an idiot apologizing for every little thing but sometimes it does seem to make things better. I don’t know, I struggle with this too. I like this post though. I can definitely relate.

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