Sunday, September 20, 2015

9/21/15—Accepting Apologies Gracefully

Today I have no words of wisdom to impart, rather I'm looking to you guys to help me understand something.

Many years ago, I was part of a very dysfunctional online community run by a man with a sensitive ego and a nasty streak. He and I didn't get along, so he made it his #1 mission to come after me. This caused a lot of stress and pain and I reached out to the few friends that didn't ditch me out of fear of reprisal. He kept this up for over a year—long after I stopped responding—and I would turn to these friends to vent. And, frankly, I over-vented.

So once I began to heal from all of this, I started thinking about what a drain I'd been on my friends. So I drafted a letter of apology to the core group along the lines of "after much thought, I realize what a drain I was and I'm sorry for all of that. I really appreciate you sticking with me and hope I can be a listening ear for you when you have a problem." After sending that letter, a curious thing happened. Some of them basically never spoke to me again. Some got very angry at me. And, essentially, this spelled the beginning of the end for me in this particular group of friends. I remember saying to one of them, "I don't get why everyone is so mad. It was an apology." And she replied, "well, what did you expect?"

Over the years, I just shrugged this off to the particular dysfunction of that group. Nobody accused me of being insincere, but maybe that's what they thought. Or maybe my apology dredged up old anger for them. Or maybe by affirming my own bad behavior, I set something off in they were allowed to say I was a drain, but if I admitted it, it somehow meant I did it knowingly and on purpose. I don't think it was because I wrote a letter instead of calling or doing it some other way, because these were online friends and I had never communicated with them in any other way prior to that moment. So I never figured it out and wrote it off as an anomaly. 

But then a few years back, I saw a woman make a public apology to everyone in a particular Facebook group I was in. And she'd hurt a lot of people and acknowledged her inappropriate behavior and apologized for it. I wasn't one of the people who were hurt and when I read her apology, I thought it was genuine and brave. I actually had compassion for her, because she had lost so many friends over the incident. But her apology nonetheless sent people into a froth. They said it was insincere. She was trying to manipulate them. She wasn't really sorry, etc. I don't remember seeing one person say "thank you, that means a lot." Years have passed and still to this day, nobody would accept an apology from this lady. There is literally nothing she can do to make amends. 

And just in the past few days, I've seen people go off on others for making an apology. There was a woman from The Talk who made a disparaging comment about black hair (she is black herself) two years ago. The backlash from two years ago stayed with her. She searched her soul. And though people had long moved on, she wanted to apologize, so she did. Honestly, it was one of the better apologies I've seen. But black women (and I know this from their profile pictures) went OFF on her on Facebook, calling her the kinds of racist names nobody, black or white, should call a black person. It hurt my heart to read the words they were throwing out. For an apology! 

In the second example, two women from The View made fun of a Miss America contestant's talent. The woman was a nurse and was dressed in scrubs and performed a poorly conceived monologue about how she was not "just a nurse." She delivered the monologue with all the warmth most people give to a Powerpoint presentation. And while the ladies from the The View were mocking her for her "talent", one referred to the "doctor's stethoscope" she wore. 

Now, I can see how nurses would appreciate this woman's monologue. It was something that probably empowered them. But it was the talent portion of a national competition and, while I think we all value the service of nurses, her talent...her monologue...was lacking. Their comments had nothing to do with nurses, rather with this one contestant's choice of talent. But nurses banded together and went on the attack, focusing on how the woman said "doctor's stethoscope" when clearly nurses use them too, and twisting what they said so it suggested they were making fun of nurses. 

So the next day, the ladies from The View issued an apology. The one said she wasn't paying full attention and thought it was someone in a costume (as in, not a nurse) and made an ignorant choice of words when she said "doctor's stethoscope." The other talked
about how much she appreciates nurses and how it was all misunderstood...they were commenting on Miss Colorado's talent, not on nurses. And you could see it on their faces. They were confused as to how this all got twisted, because they didn't intend it the way it was taken. Well, the nurses got even angrier and, get this, Johnson & Johnson and multiple other advertisers pulled all their advertising from The View as a result! 

So here's the thing...I get that I was a drain on people and it was hard for them. I get that the one woman hurt people. I get that black hair is a sensitive subject in that community. I get that nurses are second only to telemarketers in the abuse they receive. And I understand that when you are the person who is hurt, it might affect the way you see or hear an apology. But WTF? And the names the apologizers were called! I mean, really. And none of the apologies I'm talking about here were of the lame "I'm sorry you got mad" or "I'm sorry you're such an asshole that you couldn't see my point" variety. They were all situations where someone took responsibility for their actions and apologized. So, WTF?

Why do people sometimes seem to get angrier when you apologize? In my case, all those ladies were fine with me being part of their group WITHOUT me indicating that I felt bad about what I put them through. But the second I showed what I thought was respect, and apologized, it was game over! So readers, I ask...what is it about an apology that would make someone so angry?