Apologize for Your Mistakes

Below is a letter I wrote to a male friend (a new Co-Counselor) who has found himself "in the dog house"* with a mutual female friend.

Dear X-,

I have thought about the "you-and-K- situation" and believe I have an idea of what you could do that would bring about a good resolution to the problem.

After talking with K-, I am convinced that what is required to restore your relationship with her is an apology to her. Let me say here that I am very confident that anything you said that she has taken offense to was completely well-intentioned. I know you well enough to be sure that you are a person of good character who always tries to do what's right, especially where other people are concerned.

An apology is not an admission of guilt. Rather, an apology is simply an open acknowledgment of a mistake made, that for reasons known or unknown felt hard on another person. Used intelligently, an apology is a tool for repairing a connection to a person who feels hurt. It can also be an excellent opportunity to gather information about what we do that annoys other people, which we do not want to go through life doing unawarely.

Mistakes are made regularly by all humans when we do not have enough information, experience, or flexible thinking available to handle a given situation effectively. Mistakes are a part of life. We men regularly make mistakes in the direction of women because the society we've grown up in is so saturated with sexism. At the end of any given day, I could count at least ten dumb (but not bad-intentioned) mistakes I have made with women.

When women can remember that we men are really quite good and simply unaware of our sexist patterns, these mistakes tend to roll off of them. When a man can demonstrate some awareness of his sexist mistakes, it can sometimes even provide women with some comic relief from the daily burden of living with sexism.

However, if our mistakes remind a woman enough of a way that she has been hurt by sexism in the past, then she may not have the flexibility to let a mistake roll off of her.

I think this is the case with K-. I do not know the specifics of the hurt from K-'s early life that you unwittingly stumbled into, but I am certain that the "energy" behind the feelings she has directed toward you comes from an early hurt. If any of us, as young people, felt hurt by or afraid of the disapproval of another person, then the remnants of those feelings will cloud our picture of the current situation. I have found that if I can train myself to think in these terms, relationships with people become a lot less mysterious and more manageable.

Tips for offering apologies (what has worked for me in the thousands of apologies I have needed to make):

1) Remember that you are GOOD, that you meant the offended person no harm, and that you are not the major cause of her upset.

2) Don the beefiest suit of armor you can get your hands on. (Just kidding.) Apologize for doing the specific thing that the person says she is upset about. Let her know how sorry you are that it was hard for her.

3) See tip number one.

4) Do not try to explain yourself at all. When people are upset, they are not likely to be able to listen to it anyway. If you need to have someone understand your point of view, get someone else to do that for you ahead of time. (I would be glad to listen to you talk about "the K- thing" from your point of view.)

5) Review tip number one.

6) After you apologize, listen with great interest and appreciation as the offended person lists your shortcomings in great detail. When she is done, thank her for her insight into your difficulties and promise that you will consider carefully what she has said and try to learn from it. (This was partly written for humorous effect, but it really is what we're aiming for in an apology.)

7) Consider carefully what the person says and try to learn from it, all the while reviewing tip number one. Call me if you have specific questions or comments. Having someone listen to you intelligently will greatly improve your ability to make this work. Above all, enjoy learning from your mistakes!

Your friend, Paul

Paul Beich
Arlington, Massachesettes, USA
*A U.S. expression meaning "in a state of disfavor."

(Present Time No. 110, January 1998)

Last modified: 2016-08-22 02:11:22-07