Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Purpose of Apology

Do you ever wonder the purpose of apology?

Sometimes I do.

There is a fellow who comes to visit his girlfriend, a very pretty young woman, who lives a few floors up from our apartment. He's a handsome man and together they make a striking couple. I've never really liked his girlfriend, I find her cold. I've never been sure what it is that she doesn't like about me, weight, disability, sexuality. She is only marginally nicer to Joe so I think maybe it's a combination of things.

We've seen them together a number of times. He, unlike his paramour, will say 'hello' if the circumstances arise and on rare occasions has chatted about the weather. However, he never, ever, speaks when the two of them are together.

So be it.

Well the other day he was in the lobby of the apartment building, a little distraught. He was carrying a single rose and was about to dial her entry code. He saw us, recognized us, and we let him in.

We rode up in the elevator with him and I asked if he was 'OK'. He said that his girlfriend had recently had a miscarriage and they were both having a very difficult time. They were planning to move in together and start a family. Now, well, now there seems to be nothing but hurt and disappointment.

I was surprised that he was so open and so talkative but I guess at that moment we were like passengers on a bus. When the door opened and we moved to get off, I held the door for a moment and spoke to him seriously about how people respond to tragedy like this, "don't look to assign blame," and "if either of you need to be angry, be angry at the situation, at the fates, but don't be angry with each other." He listened quietly.

Just before I got off he said, "You are a very kind man. Thank you. I apologize for all the jokes that we have made about you. We should never have done that. You have a big heart."



I had not known that they had made jokes at my expense. I'm not entirely surprised, it's not uncommon.

It's clear that at that moment he was feeling grateful and as I had gifted him with time he wanted to give me something as well.


I'd have been good if he'd just said 'thanks.'

I'd have been good if he just decided at that moment that we would no longer joke and make fun of people who look like me or move like me or love like me.

I'd have been good if his apology had been deep ... and silent.

I think he meant to give me a gift.

He didn't.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps he felt that seeking absolution might mean something when he and his partner try to conceive again. At any rate, I would guess he was feeling a bit shattered and his confession/apology was his effort at "righting a wrong." As you have frequently said, the only apology you accept is a change in behaviour . . . He was unloading and you can see that for what it is/was.

n. said...

when i was in about 2nd or 3rd grade, this kid brought cupcakes that happened to be decorated with green mint gel icing. why did i tell him "well, *i* don't think it tastes like toothpaste like they said!" instead of just "hey, these are good!"

because there's the subconscious urge to make yourself look especially good and generous compared to others, instead of just not being a jerk.

not being a jerk is kind of invisible. being "so much nicer than those guys over there" (even if "those guys over there" is yourself 5 yrs ago -- or yesterday), feels better, even though it's worse.

Glee said...

terrible Dave :(

Lianna Koerner said...

Dave, I'm sorry. That man didn't need to add on his apology the way he did. Does he really think that what he has given you is a real apology?

I've had many miscarriages and my partner has shouldered on by being a support to me, working through his own grief, and still maintaining his humanity and kindness and openness to others. His valour despite his grief comes from the person he already was...grief is not the justification for prior behaviours.

Just my opinion. For the record, I'm more critical of someone's behaviour than I am by the way he or she looks. I've always been that way.

That man and his girlfriend are much uglier than you could ever be.

That was not an apology. That was some sort of justification. Every couple wonders why they lost a baby. Take my word for it.

Glee said...

He did it to forgive himself and get a warm fuzzy off your back cos he is stressed. yuk

Extranjera said...

Such a mean-spirited thing to do towards you, while making himself feel better about himself.

Kristine said...

Oy. The only "I'm sorry" that might have been appropriate in that situation could be, "I'm sorry we haven't taken the time to get to know you," or "I'm sorry we've never really talked before." It wouldn't be so much an apology, as regret at lost opportunities.

I'm a big fan of apologies, when they're appropriate. I think they can be powerful. But don't apologize to someone for something they'd never otherwise know about! Don't cause them unnecessary hurt, to make yourself feel better! Instead, apologize through a change of behavior.

Jayne Wales said...

It's the ". I don't care what they say about you.... I like you shit that gives you such a back handed apology or compliment that it should never have been said. It's the subject of jokes because it is sooooo bad.
You were too generous knowing he was hurting to say anything.. Perhaps it might make him think more, sometimes these situations just get you to think again. He might even reflect on how bad he sounded. Some people don't get it. I think another small murder Dave. These small murders have a habit of building if they just happen too often.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if he will realize what he said.

And I wonder what he will DO if he realizes what he said.

All of us can be clueless at times. If we learn from it, it can make us better people and better equipped to move forward in life.

What you did was right and kind and more than he 'deserved.'

What he did was at best clumsy, at worst mean-spirited.

I would love to know what happens the next time, when he's had a chance to reflect. Your kindness hit him out of the blue - most people don't do their best under those circumstances.

Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg said...

Clearly, the apology didn't have the impact it should have. It should have increased your dignity in that moment. When someone tells you something you didn't know about their demeaning behavior, it isn't really helpful, and it burdens you with knowledge you didn't have before so that the other person can feel absolved. Absolution was definitely on the man's mind and he made you his confessor. That was wrong and unfair.

But I'm having trouble with the harshness of the judgment in some of the comments. The man was grieving and vulnerable and open and seeing what mattered. His remorse kind of tumbled out in his grief and tiredness, and tumbled out badly. He really exposed himself in that moment, and often when people expose themselves, the sight isn't pretty. When people are grieving, their flaws often show even more strongly because they're so opened up by grief that they can't hide and they just stand there in their brokenness. But I think that he was really trying to reach out to you and connect person to person, in an incredibly flawed way, and there's a seed of beauty there. Since he's new on that path, he screwed it up really badly.

Perhaps this was the beginning of a better path for him. But of course, the execution was very, very broken. Your assessment is entirely correct and I agree with it.

theknapper said...


Anonymous said...

oh that sucks. I’m sorry it happened.
At a head level it’s lacking in tact and at a heart level it’s cruel, well that’s what I think.
There’s sympathy for the couple and the sad sad experience of miscarriage.
This is a separate issues, and, it sucks.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm... not an apology you were expecting but an apology you deserved based on your opening comments,"I've never really liked his girlfriend, I find her cold. I've never been sure what it is that she doesn't like about me, weight, disability, sexuality".

I find those of us who work in the field of Human Services to be a little more intuitive when it comes to reading others- whether it be through body language or other non verbals. We are empathetic when it comes to interacting with others, careful how we chose our words and our tone, careful of the message we send and ensuring our message is clear. We chew our words before we spit them out.

Unfortnately, not everyone shares the same skill set. Perhaps the behavior of his girlfriend has been bothering him as well and he wanted to let you know that he was aware of it and was sorry for it. Not an excuse for it, but a possible explaination.

B said...

Actually, to me, your experience is rather typical in my experience over the last 50 years as an average crip. I've heard lots of 'well-meaning' comments from a lot of people who see me as fair game. I hope you can laugh about these things.

Enjoyed your previous post. Thanks.