Apologies & Excuses

“Never ruin an apology with an excuse.” ~Unknown

I’m sorry, but…

I’m sorry; however…

These are never good ways to show that you’re truly repentant. Believe me. I’m accomplished in the “qualified apology,” the idea that any apology has to come along with an excuse. But that pretty much negates the apology. See, an apology is your way of accepting blame for whatever happened. An excuse is a way of denying blame for whatever happened. You can see how the two cannot possibly jibe, how they can be confusing and destroy the point of an apology in the first place.

I’m sorry. I was wrong. I take full responsibility for whatever happened.

I know it’s hard, too. As human beings, we are hard wired to look for the way out, to see how anyone else, how anything else, could have had a part in whatever happened, in whatever went horribly wrong. I’ve been there more times than I want to take credit for, but here I am, taking credit, or blame, however you want to look at it. No one else is responsible for the decisions I make, and I learned that the hard way. There’s no surer teacher than the hard way.

There was this one time I really liked a girl (don’t all quality stories begin this way?) so I lied to her about having exclusive Dave Matthews Band fan club tickets. Of course I figured I could join the fan club the next day, get some tickets, and no one would be any the wiser. Unfortunately the exclusive tickets for the show were already gone by the time I signed up, but instead of fessing up I got in deeper. I bought a regular ticket and gave it to her, telling her it was the exclusive one, then lied about meeting her there later.

Of course the tickets were nosebleed section, and of course I was no where near when she inevitably found this out. I don’t know what I was thinking, honestly. All I can say was that I was hoping she was dumb enough to A) accept that fan club tickets just aren’t as cool as they claim to be, and B) accept my excuse for not being there. She wasn’t dumb at all, it turns out, and the next time I saw her after the concert she ripped me a new one. I apologized then, of course, but it was way too late, and we pretty much never spoke again.

If only I had just told her I was sorry I lied about the fan club tickets ahead of time perhaps I could have salvaged a friendship. And when I did finally apologize it was with the patented excuses built in. I said how much I liked her and wanted her to think I was an exclusive kind of person. I said how I really did try to get exclusive tickets after the fact, how I spent a lot on the regular ticket… just for her. And did that get me anywhere? No. All she did was say that if I really liked her then I should have just trusted her with the information.

Because those excuses were never really for her. They were so that I didn’t feel so horrible about myself for what I did. But that’s just it. I needed to feel bad about what I did. I needed to let it all out and let the chips fall where they would. It was my fault, and I needed to take responsibility for it instead of thinking of excuses, instead of trying to rely on excuses to get me out of taking that responsibility. It never works, and even if it does all it does it reinforce the idea that I wouldn’t have to take responsibility.

You can be assured I learned from that experience. That doesn’t mean I didn’t apologize with excuses after that in other situations. I’m sad to say that I did. But it did mean I was aware of it, and eventually I was able to cut out the excuses. The more times we do something and don’t receive the desired effects… the more we learn. Now, when I apologize, I take all the blame. I lay it all out there and take the consequences. Because that’s what I would want in return.



The Apologist, Part 4

“The ocean sang. The conversation’s dimmed. Go build yourself another dream. This choice isn’t mine. I’m sorry.” ~R.E.M.

im-sorry-480x568You know how “Thank You” has an equal and opposite partner? “You’re Welcome” always comes along for the ride, a comforting sidekick that bookends that most wonderful of interactions. It’s clean and cauterized once “You’re Welcome” follows along, and we can move on to other pursuits. But “Sorry” doesn’t have just one response. Pretty much anything can come after “Sorry.” Some of those rejoinders are positive, others are negative, and some are merely indifferent. We can be forgiven for whatever we perceived we did wrong, we can be summarily judged for it, or we can be left hanging without any resolution. It’s almost like saying “I Love You,” because the wait for a response can be the hardest and most uncomfortable wait in the world.

I should know. I apologize enough.

I’ve developed a system on the other end, being the apologist that I am. When someone else tells me they’re sorry, for whatever, for anything at all, I tell them they are forgiven. It’s as simple as that: “You are forgiven.” And that can ease the weight of the world from their shoulders. Even if it’s not as easy as all that, for me anyway. Because, more times than a few, it does take time to think about it, to dig through my feelings, to stabilize myself enough emotionally to be able to give them a solid response. But I tell them they’re forgiven right off the bat because I know it will happen. I know that regardless of how I feel in the moment I will eventually forgive them because I would want them to forgive me if the shoe was on the other foot. It’s as simple as that.

Because I apologize way too often than could possibly be healthy, and I need that kind of assurance that I haven’t ruined my relationships with others. I need that kind of protection against the harsh nature of the world, that human connection and forgiveness that can make everything else rosy. I don’t always get that, so helping others achieve that with three simple words is the closest I can get to a kind of closure I want for myself. Usually they glance at me when I tell them they are forgiven with a curious look, as if I’m telling them some kind of joke that they have to verify is a joke. But I just nod my head and smile, and they know they really have been forgiven. And yes, I live vicariously through the exchange, which is okay.

“No matter how many times you say you’re sorry, somebody is not going to hear you.” ~Pete Rose

I am the apologist. I constantly look for ways that I have wronged others, and I request forgiveness. I long for it. I need it to validate my life in some way that I still haven’t quite figured out yet. I’ve tried to evaluate it at different moments, when I feel the most sorry, but I’m too tied up and twisted in it to truly be objective about the whole thing. Others have told me that I use it as a defense mechanism, that I am so worried about the way others feel about me that the apologies, the interactions they cause, give me the approval of those I wish to impress. Of course I fear they do just the opposite, that people see me as a whiner who apologizes way too much. The problem is that I can’t seem to stop myself.

Because, you see, “I’m Sorry” is my default setting now. I think I say it more than “Hey,” or even more than “I Love You.” Some have told me that the more I think about it, and the more I try to avoid saying it as a placeholder, the less I will actually say it. They’re all full of shit, because I’ve tried, and nothing has changed. I find myself saying it, and I want to take it back, but it’s already out. So I just sit there and wait to be forgiven, with approximately a 50/50 shot at a pseudo kind of redemption that is largely unnecessary. And I know it. I just can’t seem to help myself.

There must be a better way. I’m sorry.


The Apologist, Part 3

“I live a simple life. Unfettered by complex sweets. You think this isn’t me? Don’t be weak. There I go. I’m so sorry.” ~R.E.M.

im-sorry-quotes-i-m-not-perfect-i-make-mistakesI say sorry all the time, but I hardly ever actually mean it. It’s become a reflex, a placeholder that fills the space when I feel judged and I want the feeling to pass. There’s nothing quite like saying sorry and watching the other person’s face soften. It’s a rush, I guess I would say, even if I have no idea what I should even feel sorry for.

Please, and thank you. Remember those? I learned them early on too, and they too became reflexes. Someone did something for me, and if I didn’t say thank you I would hear it from my mother. It would be later, and in private, but I would still hear it, so I said thank you. If I wanted something and I didn’t say please it was going to be a cold day in my house when my mom lit into me.

And sorry was the same, except that it wasn’t. At least for please and thank you I knew the behavioral expectation was legitimate. I knew that please went along with wanting something, and thank you went along with getting something, but sorry was a conundrum because there were no measurable signals that I could count on to alert me when one was necessary.

Sorry pretty quickly became all about reading people. If my mother gave me the “look” I knew a sorry was in order, and pretty quickly. And it had to sound sincere or the question would follow: “What are you sorry for?” To which I would have to find an answer or the sorry became irrelevant. And the answer to that question could never be “I’m sorry for whatever you think I should be sorry for,” or a spanking was in order. I worked hard to avoid the spanking at all costs.

Now, though, while sorry is still about reading people, it’s become even more about reading situations. Sometimes a sorry can go a long way if the situation calls for one, regardless of the person who expects the apology. And a sorry when someone isn’t expecting one can be like Christmas — for them, and for me. A written sorry is better than a spoken one, but only if it’s handwritten, not typed or texted. Handwritten sorrys are the equivalent of candy and roses these days.

But that’s not how it should be, is it? A sorry should go a long way because of the actual emotion behind it. A sorry would mean more if I took time to ask what it was that I really did wrong because saying sorry once and thinking the situation’s over is being naive. We all have patterns of behavior, and the only way to break those patterns is to understand that we’re caught in them, to recognize them for what they are and to kill them dead. So before I say sorry the next time I feel the situation coming on I’m going to ask what I did wrong so I can fix it.

Because a sorry isn’t as good when it’s missing an explanation.  At least for me.


The Apologist, Part 2

Those two little words.

“I’ve skirted all my differences, but now I’m facing up. I wanted to apologize for everything I was, so… I’m sorry.” – R.E.M.

When I was a kid I remember my mother giving me “the look,” the one that said I did something wrong and I needed to somehow make it right. But I never knew what it was I did wrong in the first place, and I had absolutely no idea how to make it right. She would sit me down and explain what I did wrong. Maybe I pulled my sister’s hair, or I stole the Kool-Aid, or I forgot to feed the guinea pig, or one of a million other things I tended to mess up during the course of my short life up until that point. But that was the easy part, coming up with the problem; it was the solution that always proved to be difficult.

I’m sorry. Why was that always so hard to say? Maybe because I wasn’t. Not really. Not ever. Continue reading “The Apologist, Part 2”

The Apologist

“I’m sorry, so sorry…”

“I wanted to apologize for everything I was, so I’m sorry, so sorry…” – The Apologist, R.E.M.

I have said that phrase more than 2,159 times over the course of the past year, and each time it has come out of my mouth I’ve meant it. Forest Gump would probably say, “Sorry is as sorry does,” and he would be half right. Showing someone you’re sorry is so much more important than just saying the words. Anyone could say the words, whether they were true or not, but it takes someone who has true contrition to follow through in deed.

Why have I apologized so much? Because I always feel like bad things can be traced back to me. I picked up the wrong type of butter from the grocery store, so I’m sorry. I showed up late by one minute to my doctor’s appointment, so I’m sorry. I spilled some tea while transporting it from the kitchen to the dining room, so I’m sorry. The list goes on and on, and my apologies follow as surely as rain on an overcast day. Even today, I received a text from my wife after I had left Target, and it said to pick up some items, but I was already nearly home so I couldn’t get them. I’m sorry.

Sometimes it really is my fault too, and other times it isn’t, but every single time I say the mantra. I feel like I’m in AA, I say it so much. “Hello, my name is Sam, and I’m an apologist.”

“It’s too late…”

My mama taught me right from wrong, and that when I’m wrong I go to the person and say I’m sorry. But she also told me to make amends if at all possible. It’s some variation on the idea that the punishment should fit the crime. If I break a lamp, I mow lawns to make enough money to replace that lamp. And I have to honestly feel bad about what happened, what I was truly was responsible for happening.

That’s what it comes down to, not some convoluted sense of what I did, but some concrete form of it. And the words shouldn’t come automatically to my lips without the feeling, and the sense that I need to make it right, if at all possible. That’s what I’ve learned. There are too many people out there who gives so much lip service, but who also do not show remorse or attempt to make things right. I remind myself of this every single time I apologize. And it helps.

“When I feel regret, I get down on my knees and pray… I’m sorry, so sorry. I’m sorry…”


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