Apologies for Grown-ups

Apologies for Grown-ups —  by Diane D’Angelo

Recently, I experienced the resolution of a contentious professional situation. This particular scenario had dragged on for months, leaving me both anxious and drained.  One day, I was called into a meeting with the opposing party and like many employment-burned Boomers, I waited for the inevitable “adios.”

Except that’s not what happened. Instead, this person apologized. Moreover, she added that she’d never faced this situation before and hadn’t known how to handle it. Wow. What happened next? Well, after my lunch burrito moved back into the appropriate end of my stomach, I apologized too. Said I felt like an idiot because I hadn’t known what was going on and turned cocky in response. And of course, I got tearful, because that’s what I do when I’m relieved.

So we’ve moved on. Are things perfect? No. But they are inching ahead, and because of that trust born from sincerity, humility and respect, the past is the past.

Why are real apologies so hard to come by? Seems we’re surrounded by contrived apologies. The slick news conference, the 12-Step version so frequently done with all the gravity of a weekend to-do list. There’s also the indirect methods: a little gift, some fawning compliments meant to smooth over an aching heart while sneakily avoiding any semblance of vulnerability.

Is this why? “I’d like to say I’m sorry, but I’m afraid you’ll blame everything on me.”

I read that sentence in an article about couples therapy recently, and boy, it really stuck. Got me thinking about how many friendships I’ve lost over the years because the inevitable friction that goes along with human interaction was too scary for either or both parties to face. The familiar persona so carefully constructed over the years might come tumbling down. And then who would we be? And why is foreboding so often assumed with this notion? I’m convinced it doesn’t have to be the case. Instead, when I’ve allowed the vulnerability to just linger, I’ve found that amazing things happen, like a sense of peace and amazement for the insight that inevitably arises.

It’s an odd but true fact of life that one has to have enough self-esteem to be ok with not being perfect. And perhaps that’s just un-American. As a culture, we delight in public humiliation, all the while forgetting that the true meaning of humility is simply to admit ignorance or lack of a particular skill.

This is unfortunate, because it keeps us separate from each other. You can see it reflected in our polarized populace, the harshness so apparent in the stubborn ambience of collective fear that has temporarily circumvented our greater dignity.  I do trust, however, that we will get there. I’m seeing inklings of it almost every day. That’s what keeps me going – knowing that by respecting my assets and deficits, I can do the same for you. And for this, I am relieved and grateful.

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