Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 19: Apologizing

How do you say sorry? Take this scenario:
Your wife is working at the computer on the desk. You have a desk that has storage compartments on the top. You store some things in these top cubbyholes. While attempting to open one, you fail to realize there’s a water bottle straddling the opening edge. While lifting open the cover, you tip the water bottle over. The lid was unfortunately not closed, and you get water all over the keyboard and the desk papers.
What do you do? Do you immediately say sorry? Or do you look at the system that caused or contributed to your to screw up? In my case, I can see how I tipped the water bottle. The computer obstructed my viewing of objects on the desk. From past experience, there haven’t been water bottles on the opening lid. And what’s the deal with leaving an open water bottle by electronics. So yes, I can apologize, but it’s a weak apology. It’s an apology with caveats. I don’t feel bad. My screwup was not intentional, and there were other elements like the lidless water bottle placement that enabled the situation to occur.

I know where I’m coming from when I apologize like this, but I know the apology received is hollow. The person on the other end is wondering, “is he really sorry?” This isn’t such a big deal in the water bottle scenario, but now let’s say you’ve hurt someone, your wife perhaps. You didn’t mean to, and while you were wrong, there are understandable reasons why you were wrong. If I say sorry, but then jump into qualifications, Kara really questions the apology. My qualifications are a way of defending myself. They put the focus back on me, and not on the person who was hurt.

The tough part for me is that I want my apologies to be authentic, but apologizing without considering the surrounding system/context doesn’t feel accurate, and thus not authentic for me. For Kara and I, my desire for accuracy and Kara’s desire for a heartfelt apology that shows understanding of her feelings can cause a gridlock. We both want to be understood. One of us has to give to loosen up the attention. Once the tension has diffused, both sides can get what they want.

It’s taken awhile, but I’m happy to say that I have gotten better at this. I can focus on the fact that I’ve hurt Kara, and for that I am sorry. I keep my communication to that. As she feels understood, I can begin to communicate my system understanding to her. In this pattern, she actually receives it, and now both parties are feeling good ☺

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