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December 26, 2017


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This gives me so many thoughts. Are people no longer taught that they can in fact be wrong, and that they can offend others? Is it a mark of honor to never be wrong, or admit you caused offense? Do they have some idea that they are saving face by calling the exchange confusion?

I know some people like this in real life. With them, I think it's important to them to control how deeply they get into relationships. Keep it shallow, don't owe anyone anything, don't invest yourself. In guarding themselves, they keep real relationships away. I've decided it's a sad way to live, and I want no part of it.

I think part of the “I’m sorry you’re offended” apology comes also from our feelings-based culture. We don’t “think” things, we “feel” things. Even clearly factually based things are typically discussed in feelings language. Not only that, but the biggest offense cited today isn’t “you were wrong,” but “I’m offended” or “that was offensive.” When guilt is often associated with how people felt, it’s no surprise that apologies are often term similarly . A cop out? For sure, but also logical.

I do wonder about this. I wish I could remember more about an article I read years ago about a doctor who wished we could change the culture of the careful non-apology. In his experience, even if he couldn't fix physical results, a true apology seemed to help all parties leave the situation in a better frame of mind.

Corporate-wise, I don't know. I think we've been ingrained with this idea that you put yourself at risk by admitting fault. And somehow, that's transferred from the big corporate level down to the arrogant guy on the phone.

In more personal situations...I'm often tempted to chalk it up to arrogance, but when I'm being more compassionate I think it's more about fear. After all, if it's true for me...I have to allow that it might be true for other people. Which isn't to say that I'm incapable of arrogance; I know that I can err in that direction if I'm not careful. But I think a lot of that also comes back to fear. Being wrong = failure. Being wrong = being LESS. I often have to fight an inner voice that tells me that if I'm not Better Than, then I'm actually Not Good Enough. I don't actually need or want to be superior: I'm just terrified of being (found to be) inferior! Apologizing is an act of courage, sometimes. I've gotten better at it since becoming a parent: I've tried to model that for him, including the idea that you make the apology because it's the right thing to do (not because you expect anything back), and because the relationship is more important than Being Right. And I've especially tried to model the idea that we're all works in progress.

A few years ago I confronted the manager at our grocery store over a non-aopolgy and he came back with a most gracious apology that rather floored me.

Our grocery store has a self-scan pilot program. They have handheld scanner guns that you can use to scan your own groceries as you walk through the store. you can place them directly into bags in your cart and then when you arrive at the checkout all you have to do is scan the barcode on the scanner and pay. Your groceries are already in the bags. I love this because the time kids get most squirrely at the store is standing in the checkout line.

Well, periodically the system flags you to have an employee audit your cart to make sure you aren't bagging things that you haven't scanned. Usually they just scan a random 20 things in your cart and then you're good to go. Well, one day I was in the store with Dom and all five kids and we were flagged to have our whole order rescanned by a cashier. The manager who pulled us aside kept telling us that it would take no time at all and be no real inconvenience. No time at all! They took all my carefully bagged groceries, which had been carefully sorted for maximum efficiency in putting them away when we got home. All the freezer stuff together, the fridge stuff, the pantry stuff, the bread, the produce, the snacks, etc. And of course they messed up my system. In reality it probably only added an extra ten minutes, but it was right at lunch time and I had five kids who were getting hungry. And I was mostly annoyed by the fact that he kept not-apologizing but dismissing the real inconvenience by telling me it wouldn't delay me. And pretending that giving me a couple of free reusable shopping bags would make up for it.

Well, I was still fuming the next week when I saw him again. So I flagged him down and told him why I was so upset. And to my surprise he was very thoughtful. He said: "I lied to you. I said it wouldn't be an inconvenience and it was. I'm very sorry about that."

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