This week I
experienced something I’ve never experienced before.I attempted an apology that went horribly
wrong. Saying I am sorry never seemed so awkward.
We live with
the expectation of certain actions will garner specific outcomes.I know communications can be complex and
sometimes difficult to circumnavigate. But one thing I always thought is that
if you apologized, really meant it, this would provide closure and move the
conversation forward in a positive way.
I was wrong.
This is the
story. A few of months ago I learnt that I hurt someone 17 years ago by not
allowing that person to say over at my place. The funny thing is I remember the
incident clearly, my mind works like that.
It was a stormy
winter evening and I was home alone with my son because my husband was away on business.
I just put my newborn son in his crib, and was settling down to read, when I
got a call.The person, who was living
with a family member, was at the airport, and asked if they could camp at my
house for the night. Until last fall, I never met that person. Although since then, we had
what I thought was some very friendly conversations on the phone over the
welcome unexpected visitors especially if I am home alone.But on this particular evening I was feeling
tired, with a winter storm brewing, and a little baby. I didn’t feel
comfortable driving the 2 hours round trip to the airport.I said, “I can’t come and get you.”If you know me, you would know how hard it is
for me to say no. Although, asking for help from someone you never met, I am certain
forward to the current year, I find out at the time of this incident this
person was actually unhealthy. And didn’t have the money to go to a hotel,
which resulted in a horrifying 22 hours layover at the airport. And to top it
off since I denied the request for a bed, I added to the pain. Because I didn’t know the person, I didn’t
know there was a health concern. Imagine how horrible I felt with the news, and
had I known then, what I just learned, I would have pack the baby and head off
to the airport. I told the person who told me this news I felt bad and would apologize.
Thinking at the time because it seemed like after 17 years it was still a problem,
I would have to apologize in person.
has to be clear to avoid misunderstandings. Often we leave out information
thinking the person we are communicating with already knows what we are
thinking. That was our mistake in this instance. If I were told there was a
health and finance issue, things would have been different. But little did I
know the pain I caused, being oblivious until recently, to what saying “no”
meant 17 years earlier.
After an abrupt
email response from this person in mid September, I gave it some further thought,
and I decided to apologize sooner rather than to wait until we met in person.I made the call a couple of days ago. I was
tongue-tied, and could not say anything right, after I was told my apology was
meaningless.The call ended terribly and
I felt bad.
This is how the call unfolded. I identified
myself and said I was calling to apologize, in return I was met with hostility and curtness.At the same time, the person thank me for
apologizing but then said the time to apologize was long time passed. Basically saying, I
know you are sorry but it is not enough. What could I do at this point but to repeated that I am sorry.I asked what I could do to make it better and
I was willing to hear what needed to be said to me. But it was too late after a
few words were exchanged the phone was passed on to another person.My apology was rejected. I felt like a
failure because I seemed to have piled on more hurt and anger for this person
I called a
friend, who is a life coach to talk this over. By the way, she is an amazing
person with so much knowledge in human relationships. She affirmed that I did
the appropriate thing in providing space to listen and be ready to hear what
needed to be said to me. She reminded me of our ego, and how when we are faced
with a difficult conversation we tend to want to be right and make the other
person wrong. That is our default. We need to avoid that reaction. I got it.
But at the time
of my apology, I got trapped into making myself right. Especially when I was accused of
terrible treatment of this person every time we met. I tried to say we met only
once, which is a fact. I wanted details when we met, and the nature of the
abuse and hurt I cause so I can defend myself. But that meant I was making that
other person wrong. I should not have been defensive. Let it go. I get it.
If you let go
of being right, there is no room to go and the situation is neutralized. I will
apologize in person to this person again. Even, if I feel more hesitant now because
I may get shut down again. But it is not about me, is it? Life gives us a series of learning curves and it
is up to us individually to strive to always be a better person.