Learn How to Apologize
I've been thinking a lot about apologies lately, partly in light of what we owe Residential School Survivors and partly because it's one thing that I think I can always learn to do better. It's so hard to apologize without justifying my actions and to just accept the impact of what I did or said.
I read Learn how to apologize by Nicole Cardoza on Anti-Racism Daily back in December and have re-read it a few times since then. It has stuck with me because of her thorough examination of what makes a good apology and why apologizing is important.
Here is some of what stood out for me from her piece. This section got me thinking about the culture of apologizing in Canada and how reticent public figures are to admit individual and systemic faults.
[...] But suppose we can equip ourselves with tools for navigating challenging situations. In that case, we can more effectively practice harm reduction if and when it occurs – and feel more confident when engaging in uncomfortable situations. This act may allow us to stay in relationship – not run and flee.
One of these tools is the act of apologizing. And apologizing isn’t embedded in U.S. culture. Generally, people in the U.S. are wary of admitting that they are wrong. A personal admission of guilt can lead to consequences – a loss of respect, friends, and community, and complicated emotions to process individually.
She also talks about how important it is not to qualify yourself when you say "I'm sorry":
Naming that you're sorry – without any “ifs, ands, or buts” is critical. Changing, or removing this phrase entirely, is a common way people try to eschew responsibility. Using phrases like “I’m sorry you felt that way” or “I didn’t realize you’re so sensitive” puts the focus on the other person’s feelings, not your actions. Phrases like these can be wielded to manipulate or even gaslight others [...]
And finally, I think the greatest takeaway is this:
An apology is something we do, not something we say. And we carry it forward by changing our behavior to minimize opportunities for future harm.
Please go and read her whole post. I also encourage you to sign-up for the Anti-Racism Daily. Since June 2020 Nicole and a team of contributors have been putting out a daily email that does a deep dive into one aspect of anti-racism work. It's good stuff.