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.