I tell my kids, quite regularly, that they should always find a way to apologize if they know they hurt another's feelings. Or if they know they did something wrong. Or even if they know they created a situation that might have led to bad feelings. I guess I have them seriously cover their bases. There is no harm in over-apologizing. But if we fail to apologize when we really should - well - that presents a significant problem. After all, the harmed party is surely waiting for an apology. And when they don't get one, hurt feelings have the opportunity to multiply, don't they?
Apologies are hard. No question. Especially with the people we are closest to. I can very easily and profusely apologize to the poor shopper that I bumped into because I rushed by them mindlessly. But when I have to tell a dear friend that I inadvertently hurt their feelings by making a joke at their expense, or forgetting to acknowledge them when they reached out about something important, well... that is just brutal. I can hardly explain it but there seems to be great comfort in anonymous apologies. A stranger doesn't know my history (of frequently bumping into people). A stranger can't bring up what I did before, or question my motives for apologizing. They take what they get and they move on. But a friend or family member has history. And history becomes the enemy of a good apology.
My son will deliver this apathetic, ridiculously insincere apology when he whacks his sister and its like, why do you even bother offering an apology when you don't mean it? (He would say because mom said so. Fine. I'll take that.) But he has been in this exact position before. He has whacked his sister and needed to apologize. And we are all waiting for him to deliver those simple words. And he knows that this will happen again, which probably makes his apology just a part of his routine, disconnected from any real remorse for hurting his sister. His history with her becomes the impediment. So routine is another enemy of a good apology, too.
With those we are closest to, apologizing requires being vulnerable. Opening up and letting them in on our feelings and insight, or lack thereof. And if we apologize because we feel like we have to, someone close to us will know it immediately. Our tone, our non-verbal cues, our choice of words. And I suppose we run the risk of someone close to us not accepting our apology, so then what?
Despite the common apology errors, including the problem with routine, shared history or the potential for it not being accepted, I don't think I'll stop over-apologizing. Or teaching my kids to do the same. I do believe that people like to hear a sincere apology and I do believe that if one is delivered in excess, that's ok. No harm, no foul. And I still expect those around me to over-apologize to me. The stranger in mall, the neighbor, the colleague, the friend, the child, the spouse. I always accept an apology because I deeply appreciate the courage it takes to deliver it. And I believe that allows me to move forward, without prejudice or anger.
Maybe I deliver apologies so readily because I crave them in return. But maybe the need for delivering apologies is more about me and not about the event or the recipient at all. Maybe the need to express that sentiment comes from a place in me that is searching for validation. Hear me apologize and understand that I am capable of this error. Acknowledge my apology and let me feel better because I will know that you know that I know I did wrong. Let me apologize and show you how open I am to this connection when the tables are turned.
Let me apologize this time, and you get next.