Family Nature

Apologies. For Realz.

Sibling RivalryYears ago, I worked for a big software company. I was part of a department that provided a service to our office’s 900+ employees. I talked to many, many employees regularly.

One day, I was talking to a particularly difficult employee and he was getting mad at me for a company policy over which I had no control. The phone call escalated. I kept my cool, but the guy lost his marbles and ended up screaming at me. My boss, who was a couple of desks over, could hear this guy yelling at me through my phone and came over. I told the guy, “Why don’t you call me back once you’ve had a chance to calm down?” When I hung up, my boss marched straight to HR to report this guy on my behalf.

At a meeting with HR, they wanted to know what happened. I explained. Then they asked me, “What do you want? Do you want an apology?”

Did I want an apology? Huh. No, actually, what I wanted was to never have to deal with this guy again. (I actually got that wish because he was given to another employee to deal with.)

Another time, there was an incident with a fellow parent at my kids’ school, with whom I worked on a committee. He phoned me at home and said some rather unsettling things to me. I did what anyone would do, ran to the principal and tattled. Seriously, I do not put up with that shit but I didn’t know what to do about it.

Because it was a school council committee, the principal said she’d take care of it. She also told me that some of the things this parent said to me could be considered harassment, and that people had called the police for less. I didn’t call the police – honestly, I thought this guy just made a bad judgement call, but he needed to know that what he did was not okay. At the end of my conversation with the principal, she asked me what I wanted; did I want an apology?

There it is again: the forced apology.

No, I didn’t want some forced apology; I wanted the guy to not be a jackass. (Sadly, I did not get this wish.)

I don’t believe in forced apologies. I believe in apologies. Sincere ones. I’m not going to go into detail about what makes a good apology, because I think most of us know if we think about it for a second. There’s also this great post called Leadership and the Anatomy of a Good Apology. It’s good. Give it a read.

What strikes me about this post is this: why do we need posts like this anyway? I think, at least in part, it’s because we have become so accustomed to the fake, forced apology, that some of us actually need step-by-step instructions on how to give a good one. I think about this, as I often do for just about everything, in the context of kids. Raising kids, teaching kids, and having kids understand these little important things in life.

We make kids deliver forced apologies all the time. “Tell little Billy you’re sorry for poking his eye out!” with the threat of a time out or some other punishment. C’mon, we’ve all been there. The kid then reluctantly gives the apology, but you know they don’t mean it. You know that in their head, they are thinking that little Billy got exactly what he deserved for committing whatever unforgivable transgression he delivered just before said eye-poking.

I flip flop on the merits of forcing kids to give these apologies. On the one hand, little Billy deserves an apology; no question about it. On the other hand, I don’t know what we’re teaching kids when we force them to make insincere apologies.

What do you think?

Photo by George Bremer via Flickr.

4 thoughts on “Apologies. For Realz.

  1. Karen D

    I’m not pro the forced apology, but far too many times in my life have I apologized just to smooth things over when I don’t feel I’ve done anything worth apologizing for.

    I do talk to my kids about apologizing when they made a mistake or accidentally hit someone or stepped on someone’s toe, etc. I really hope that I don’t make my kids apologize when they did something intentionally and feel justified for doing so, but I’m definitely going to watch myself even more closely this week to be sure. I think that sometimes I definitely apologize to people for something intentional my kid did that my kid is not going to apologize for, but that I feel sorry about so… lots to think about. Thank you!

    1. familynature Post author

      “… far too many times in my life have I apologized just to smooth things over when I don’t feel I’ve done anything worth apologizing for.”

      Yes! Exactly! So much of the apologizing we do is all wrong. But I can’t quite figure out the right thing. This has been on my mind for ages.

  2. Lara

    Oh this is a big topic! I apologize all the time, even for things that don’t really require an apology! And I definitely make my boys apologize for transgressions against others, especially each other, when they don’t want to. But isn’t that part of being empathetic, considering the other person’s feelings in a situation. Even if you really did “accidentally” hit your brother, he is still hurt and he still requires your empathy. But maybe all that apologizing de-values the big apology in the end. Definitely food for thought. Thanks!

  3. Meredith

    I took a conflict management course and my take home message from it was this: you can be right, and know that you’re correct and the other person is incorrect, but if it means keeping the peace and it comes at very little cost to you and it may benefit you in the future, why not booster someone’s ego?

    I teach my kids to apologize, not because I believe they are truly sorry (sometimes they are) but ibelieve that this “skill” will take them further in their lives, rather than having to always be right/correct and piss the wrong people off.

    Hope this makes sense. LuvurpalmerEdith

    Ps the world is filled with assholes. I don’t need to add three more.

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