This week, I've been reading about the act of apologizing. Blogs, Buddhist quotes, TED Talks — all of it centered on the benefits of taking ownership and expressing regret to the injured party. It's a philosophical vacation and this week I'm traveling through Mea Culpa.
(Of course, there's always the possibility my lizard brain knows I'm gonna do something terrible soon and feels the need to brush up.)
Meditating on the nature of the apology dredged up memories of kindergarten and the night I was sent from the dinner table to get my hair out of my face. I didn't know how to work a barrette, so I grabbed a pair of scissors, lopped the offending piece off right at the scalp, and returned to pancakes and praise.
A week later, the small tufts of hair sticking out like tiny yellow soldiers drew my mother's ire. So I blamed it on my little brother and stood by, hands folded together in solemnity as he was spanked for being too enthusiastic during craft hour.
The most interesting bits of my Sorry Research this week focused on the sociological cues an earnest apology gives the recipient, ideas which I found concisely laid out in an article entitled "The Importance of Apologizing" by Elizabeth Scott.
I'd like to share a few of her ideas with you now:
• Apologizing indicates you know what the rules are and won't break them again. (Solid advice but when I attempt to apply it to the Kindergarten Haircut Incident, I'm at a loss... What is the broken rule here? Bangs should hang down, not stick straight up? Leave the room before kid brother is punished because his tears disturb your Zen? No idea.)
• Apologizing gives the injured party her/his dignity back by placing the blame on your own shoulders. (Lesson: My mother should apologize for caring my hair was getting dipped into maple syrup. Bathtime was like 20 minutes after dinner!)
• Apologizing repairs communication ruined by the incident (I'm happy to chat about it, but I'm still unsure who receives the apology. MY pancakes got cold, MY hair looked stupid for months, and MY brother got spanked.)
• A sincere apology demonstrates that not injuring others is a priority. (I don't want anyone to get hurt and it's definitely a priority. But let's not go overboard; my hair's been fixed for years, and I can get pancakes any time I want now.)
Outside of the research, I learned something I didn't come across in the blogs or the quote books or the TED Talks, and that's that apologizing relieves a lot of guilt. So anytime my brother or mother would like to apologize, I'll be waiting right here, filled with forgiveness and sticky with syrup. (Old habits die hard.)
Jeanine Fritz writes for the Colorado Daily every Monday.