I just can’t stand hearing your apology.
You did nothing wrong.
Why are you sorry you didn’t bring anything to a party I invited you to?
Why confess reasons for being five minutes late to a laid back kids playdate?
Why apologize for taking ten seconds to respond to the question I asked five seconds ago?
It’s not you. It’s me.
Your apologies make me think I should apologize for such things.
Stop, stop, stop.
Don’t apologize for making me feel this way.
It only lasts a second.
That’s how long it takes me to perform the mental calculus to realize, “We over-apologize. Our society.”
We apologize for not getting together enough.
We apologize for not responding to one of the one-hundred texts you sent.
We apologize for not cleaning up the mess in the kitchen, the toys in the living room, the plate on the dinner table once a month.
We apologize for brushingg your hand when grabbing the car gear shift while you grab your drink.
We apologize for not responding back on the favor you asked us to do because you were on vacation, not project managing the socially acceptable turnaround time on favor requests.
We apologize for asking about your mom when we didn’t know she died.
We apologize for asking about your dad when we didn’t know he’s still a pain in your side.
We apologize for asking about your brother and sister not knowing how you’re dying while they’re thriving.
We’re sorry for every minor inconvenience.
We’re sorry for the tiny pains we cause you to think about.
We’re sorry for everything society tells us we dare not not-apologize for.
And the cycle repeats.
Everyone apologizing for everything.
Humanity tiptoeing on eggshells.
Don’t disturb the delicate weakness of our psyche.
When I was twenty I was the center of THE universe.
By thirty I’d logged my hours in therapy.
At forty I know I’m the center of my universe.
Everyone else is the center of theirs.
“A subset” sometimes suspend their ego.
And remember they’re not the center of THE.
The people at the center of THE universe are “the normals”.
I understand the normals over-apologizing.
In a world where everyone is the center of THE, every mistake is an affront against the queen.
I don’t understand the subset over-apologizing.
You solved the riddle.
Why so sorry?
I’ve seen these people.
I know these people — a subset of the subset.
They’re good people.
They’re nicer than me.
The highest character.
So nice they don’t rock anyone’s boat.
They know not everyone is part of the subset.
Some people are still battling their egos, still living as the center of THE.
And they apologize to appease these kings.
They cause no pain.
When they do they sweep it under the rug before you ever notice.
It feels good to be around the square-subset.
Every interaction is smooth.
But they do humanity a disservice.
(This is my ego talking now.)
This circular dependency of over-apologizing needs a short circuit.
How do we break the infinite loop of ridiculous inhuman expectations we have for each other?
Not with apologies.
It just won’t work.
The normals ego
Have you ever seen the look on the face of the normals when you don’t apologize?
Their jaws clench.
Their eyes pinch.
They’re searching for why they’re not deserved an apology.
Did this person not get the memo?
“You sir, you mam, injured my mental wellbeing with your casual disregard for the three moments of pause between my inquiry and your retort.”
How dare you?
HOW – dare – you?
Do you know who I am?
I am THE center of THE universe.
I live and the universe expands.
I die and your world collapses in upon itself.
You just wait.
Your days are numbered.
Do you hear that?
Listen to your numbers faded screams off that cliff over there they just fell off from the untold harm you caused me.
The square-subset turns
It’s in those moments the square-subset needs to stand strong.
Come back to the subset.
We’re a good bunch.
A little direct.
A little rude.
A little Irish.
Intolerant of the niceties of societal communication ping pong.
You are not wrong to hold back what feels like a meaningless apology that smooths the rough edges of your interaction with the normals.
It feels wrong.
You are not wrong.
When the normals scrunch their faces enough times angry and lobotomied at the spectacle in front of them, they will join us.
The subset will grow.
The world will be less self-centered.
A better world.
For you and me.
Or their heads will explode.
Either way we’re better off.
What world do we want?
Who are we optimizing this world for?
But why not optimize for the subset?
Are we worried the normals will rise up against us and swallow us whole with one bite from their steroid-strong, muscle-bound mouths?
It’s just easier to appease them.
But what about the children?
What are we teaching the kids?
To alleviate the suffering of everyone’s ego.
Doesn’t that enable more egotistical behavior?
And how are we treating the rest of the subset?
Constantly apologizing to our fellow members who need no apologizing.
I’m sorry you’re sorry.
I apologize for the inconvenience of thinking about how sorry I am you’re sorry when in fact you regret worrying about retracting your confession which made me feel bad about you feeling possibly — mildly — fleetingly — annoyed.
What about real apologies?
Have you ever heard a normal apologize for something they should be sorry for?
I’m sorry I did that horrible thing but x reason, y excuse, and z is why it was unavoidable (now and in the future — so deal with it, it’s going to happen again).
I went to religious school for twenty years.
The one thing you learn is how to apologize.
It was wrong.
I’ll do better.
I don’t bat a thousand on apologizing the right way.
But I know not to add reasons after the apology.
You just stop and take a deep breath.
Own that damn apology like you mean it.
Your penance is that uncomfortable feeling for a few seconds sitting there standing in front of your victim with no shield of reasons why you did the things you shouldn’t have done.
Take your penance like a man.
It’s the least you can do.
Everyone has a reason.
When we don’t like them we call them excuses.
But they’re all excuses.
There’s always a preceding event.
When you apologize to me and give me a reason why it happened, here’s what I hear.
“I’m sorry about x. X happened because of y.” (y is not my fault so you should expect this to happen again anytime y recurs. I’m sorry but it’s completely outside my control.)
Devaluing the apology
Apologizing so much when we don’t need to devalues real apologies.
The subset gets so used to weak, transient, unnecessary apologies, they start using them for real apologies.
They give reasons and circumstances and confounders.
And everyone around them sees these weak apologies and weakens their own apologies.
The cycle repeats.
We model a society of everyone apologizing for everything that doesn’t matter.
And never taking full, clean, direct responsibility for the things that do matter.
We’re a shell of what humanity could be.
Real interactions with real brains with full frontal lobe attention and control in the moments that matter.
Easy for me to say.
I was brainwashed to operate this way as a child.
And I never forgot.
And I have a job that forces daily use of that frontal lobe.
Some people work at a meat counter.
Nothing wrong with the meat counter.
New world, virtual world
It’s getting worse.
Knowledge workers in our remote work cocoons feel every single second of silence.
The lack of noise.
Do you expect me to talk?
Who’s supposed to talk?
Why is no one talking?
Where’s our manager?
Why is she not talking?
Someone needs to talk and it’s either the project manager or the product manager, or the manager manager, not me.
Why is it so quiet?
Wait, it’s only been five seconds since I asked the last five questions.
Felt like five minutes, not five seconds.
In the virtual world, we’re faceless, odorless, unfeeling bastards.
We only hear.
We’re blind with fully working retinas.
When see nothing of our coworkers, we hear everything.
The silence draawwwssss out.
Seconds become minutes.
Minutes become hours.
Wait a minute for someone to look up something in a meeting and watch how everyone pivots and postures.
Set a stopwatch.
How long does it take for someone to say, “Maybe we should take this offline”?
For non-knowledge workers, that means “We’re not waiting for you to answer. Figure it out later with whoever you need.”
Subtly, subconsciously, it also means, “Stop wasting my time with this silence and research and doing your job. I live in a world of immediate gratification and you’re delaying me. YOU – ARE – DELAYING – ME!!! How dare you? Go offline where you belong with your slow-minded brethren who forget to anticipate and pre-load the answers to my needs. Me, me, me. Me, me, me. Don’t you ever forget it.”
Take a breath
Silence is okay.
Silence lets you take a deep breath.
Take a deep breath, knowledge workers.
Sit there in that uncomfortable silence and think.
Or clear your mind.
Or do anything but put more pressure on the person you all expect to conduct your interactions like the maestro of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.
Opera has silence.
Maybe that’s why we all hate opera.
They’re only human too.
Not the opera singers.
Your virtual coworkers.
They need seconds.
If you sat their live in a physical room (you remember that?) with them you’d see, feel, and smell that they’re a human.
A real human.
Just like you.
You can’t predict the future, have every answer ready, fill every void in the audible space with Shakespearean poetry.
Neither can they.
They’re just a man doing a job.
Just a woman with a title.
Filling that auditory vacuum because we squirm in our comfy chairs in our home offices and everyone hears our minds becoming impatient as they search for the quickest reply to fill the void that’s entrapped us.
How do we end this madness?
Picture the word “sorry” in your brain right now.
Write “SORRY” in all caps.
Draw a bold, rectangular box around “SORRY”.
Place your mental yellow highlighted at the “S” in “SORRY”. Move that highlighter right.
Every time you feel “SORRY” about to come out of your mouth, pause.
Take a breath.
Ask yourself, “Do I need to apologize for this?”
“Do I need to load the ‘real apology’ program?”
With thought and meaning and feeling from the heart, from the gut, orchestrated by a tuned-in brain and maybe, just maybe, a tear.
Then move on.
Stop the cycle.
Yes that moment might be uncomfortable.
Yes the other person’s jaw might drop waiting.
It’s going to be okay.
99.9% of the time their brain won’t explode.
If it does, what a story it will make.
Get ready to duck.
We can’t change the whole world.
We can change our world.
That’s good enough.
Preserve real apologies for our future so when aliens pop down to our planet and we forget to offer them a glass of lemonade and they seem a little miffed, we sense it and say “sorry, sorry, sorry, would you like something to drink?”, Chronos the Destroyer doesn’t say, “That’s it. Enslave them all. They haven’t evolved enough to master the apology. Next planet.”