Never Having to Say You’re Human

apology  I recently hurt somebody’s feelings, implied she wasn’t doing her best, and that the results were unacceptable. I wish I could explain away these harsh sentiments, wish I could say I was righteously justified. But…. nope. There was no need to couch the situation as I did.

 I think what made my comments so painful to hear was that all I focused on was the mistake. In other words, even if this person worked long and hard on my behalf, had the best intentions, and did  an excellent job in many areas, none of that mattered. “You let me down,” I implied, “and there’s no excuse for that.”

There’s always an excuse for stumbling–we’re human. We forget, we get tired, we miss things. Our best efforts may be bumbling, haphazard, anxious, or ambiguous. Whatever else is true, a single boo-boo, or typo, whether it’s on a page, or in a relationship, is not the sum of the person, the prose, or the relationship. I know this as an author, but I lost sight of that.

sorryWe’re here to learn how to love and be loved, says me, and meanness in any guise runs counter to my Starfleet directive. I’m fortunate that the person I wronged heard and accepted my apology. I elevated the problem over the person, and for that, I will always be sorry. Why did I do that?

I lost perspective because I’m tired, sometimes overwhelmed, and oh, what a coincidence, human. Right there, right where I screwed up, is where I can reconnect with the person I wronged and with my better intentions.

I had to think about this, about what I was apologizing for, and why I’d felt so wronged in the first place. When I got upset with the situation, I did not do as the conflict managers are taught to do, and come up with a neutral definition of the problem. Instead I started blaming, finding fault, and accusing.

very sorryDrat and bother. I hate it when I do that. The situation is behind me now, but I’m chastened and also mindful that I popped off at somebody because I need to look after myself a little better. Fewer to-dos, more good nights sleep; fewer accomplishments and more kindnesses.

When was the last time you stepped in it and had to apologize? Was there a time when you didn’t and wish you had? What stopped you? When did somebody apologize to you, and get it right?

To one commenter, I’ll send a $25 American Express gift card.

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39 comments on “Never Having to Say You’re Human

  1. 1
    anat says:

    I apologize DAILY to members of my family.
    Being a stay-at-home parent means I am constantly in everybody’s business, and my big mouth and quick temper means I often say things I regret 🙁
    Having said that, I made apologizing an art form 🙂
    My kids learn from me, especially from my mistakes, and very early on perfected their apology skills.

  2. 2
    Mary T says:

    Oh Grace, we have all been there. Now that I’m retired and the kids are all grown, I don’t have as many opportunities to “step in it” as I used to.

    Also, I think I’ve got a tiny bit wiser. A couple of years ago, a niece who was staying with me, did something that made me so angry, I couldn’t talk to her about for a whole day. I was afraid I’d say something unnecessarily harsh. Of course, I think that increased her stress level somewhat because she know just how angry I was. But it was important that I said what needed to be said without throwing in mean and hateful things that would only muddy the water.

    On a side note, just finisher WHAT A LADY NEEDS FOR CHRISTMAS and I loved it. Loved that your hero was from a different class and that you explored the differences. I love historical romances, but sometimes I wonder just how many dukes and earls there were over there (smile).

    • 2.1

      That’s a tough place, where you know you must say something, but you’re too hot to say it so you can be heard rather than rant. I ranted. I will try to listen for the ranting tone in my voice now, and rein myself back. It’s tough…

      Glad you liked Lady Needs! I’m having fun dealing with characters who are not superheroes. Even Christian, my last Duke from The Captive, was just another struggling dad, just another guy who got it wrong for a while, while Gilly coped and soldiered on.

  3. 3
    Susan Gorman says:

    Forgive yourself, you are only human. We all step in it when we are tired, overwhelmed or not on the top of our game.

    We have had a few busy weeks here. Fall chores, driving the daughter back and forth to college, the dogs, caring for the older dog and regular every day things. I was given the opportunity to work extra hours at work and I grabbed the it. I am tired and maybe a bit crabby and definitely overwhelmed by weeks end.

    My husband has a to do list– things we (me) need to do over the weekend. He started to say something a few weeks back when our daughter was home. She reminded him that he could do anyone of the things on the list and that no one would die if something didn’t get done. Mediating skills are a blessing. He listened and didn’t step in it which made for a pleasant weekend.

    Apologizing is not an easy thing for many people. The person who is apologizing has to take a step back and assess what happenned, own it and work through it with the other person. Some people ignore their actions and pretend it didn’t happen. I respect someone who owns their actions and apologizes.

    • 3.1

      Good points, Sue, and it’s complicated here by the fact that I had a legitimate gripe, but completely bungled in how I presented it. Have to let go of the gripe long enough to see the harm I caused.

  4. 4
    catslady says:

    I’m one of those people that says “sorry” for everything (like that commercial about women) but these aren’t usually big apologies. Actually, I keep everything to myself even though I know that never resolves anything. I seem to have thin skin and others say hurtful things but I never let on that it bothers me. I avoid confrontation at all costs. I guess it’s a coping mechanism learned eary on.

    • 4.1
      catslady says:

      “early” – I really should proofread my posts lol.

    • 4.2

      One of my cousins got into therapy, and was given the exercise of counting how many times in a day she said, “That’s fine,” or “I’m fine,” when what she really meant was, “That’s not quite what I wanted or needed, but I can’t bear to tell you that.” Nice people have a challenge when it comes to being heard… especially when being honest risks being hurt.

  5. 5
    Elaine says:

    I work in a fast-paced, high-pressure industry and was elevated quickly when I was young. The best lesson I ever learned about managing conflict on a tight timetable was being quick with an apology. One day I was temporarily “in charge” when a serious problem happened in a peer’s department. The boss was all over me for explanations and resolution. My peer, much more experienced and accomplished, reacted to my urgency with an outburst of fury. I quickly apologized, confessed that the boss’s anger was rattling me, and asked for his help in getting a quick answer up the food chain. He said “I can’t believe you apologized first. X (the person I was filling in for) never apologies first. It takes a big person to apologize first.” And immediately he was my ally.
    I do think your “how can I make it right” advice is excellent. I can’t say I’ve always asked that, of myself or the person I’ve wronged. I will be saving that up for future reflection, to be sure.

  6. 6
    bn100 says:

    a friend apologized for ruining a borrowed sweater

  7. 7
    Teenie Marie says:

    Your real issue was how you criticized. Was part of your criticism justified? If you didn’t say anything, true, you wouldn’t feel lousy for hurting someone’s feelings but you would feel lousy for not bringing the situation to the other person’s attention. You jumped in it…..and now you’ve apologized and it’s been accepted and by rights, you should feel better….but you don’t, exactly.

    I am a musician, and a conductor to boot, and my JOB is to criticize. I have learned how to criticize kindly so I don’t often hurt others feelings. In the music biz, it’s almost expected for us conductor-folk to be snarly. I have found I get better results if I’m mostly nice. And I’ve taken that skill back to my personal life.

    This doesn’t mean I don’t hurt people with my words and actions but it’s not too often anymore, thank goodness. It’s often a question of waiting a beat so I am able to think before I say something. Or NOT saying something is even better! I have also learned to not have ready-made explanations for others in my mind….is the reason they are late because they are stuck in traffic or is it really because they didn’t plan their time better……and there is often no planning for traffic! If I give someone a break for being late, they may give me a break for something down the road and that’s a good thing.

    People think it best to NOT criticize but nothing gets better or may even get worse if not addressed. If we can be constructive and kind with our criticisms we may not have to apologize!

    • 7.1

      You hit it in the head, TM. I had a legitimate gripe, but exploded rather than problem-solved. As I reflect on it, my behavior was a symptom of feeling powerless and unheard, and a problem more clearly defined is a problem more clearly solved.

      Thanks!

  8. 8
    Molly R. Moody says:

    My daughter and I had a verbal “knock down, drag out” fight a few years ago, but it cleared up a many years tension between us. In a way I’m glad it happened, though I don’t like the fact that it happened in front of her three girls, I tried apologizing but I honestly don’t know if she accepted it or not but since we’re now fairly close I’m guessing she did even if she didn’t say so.

    I too have a bad habit of saying the wrong things at the wrong time or as I often say “I just open my mouth to switch feet”. I do apologize but many times I don’t think people believe I’m sincere so I tend to just clam up.

    Sometimes it can be very difficult to be caring and understanding.

    • 8.1

      What the mental health folks tell me is that fighting (fair) in front of the kids is not a disaster, provided the kids also see you making up, working through the issues, and letting bygones be bygones. “Fairly close,” says you and your daughter have done all three!

  9. 9
    Barbara Elness says:

    I’ve had to apologize plenty in my life, but I can’t remember the last time. Maybe that means I’m getting better at holding my tongue and/or avoiding conflict altogether. There were times when my son and his wife lived with me that I wanted to say something about things that bothered me, but I knew that his wife was very sensitive and got her feelings hurt easily, so it would be like kicking a puppy, I just couldn’t do it. I tried to tactfully let my son know when there was a problem and hoped to resolve it that way.

    • 9.1

      Going through channels… always a good idea at least for the first few tries. My daughter has been home once since moving out eight years ago, and that was tough for me… wanted to give her boyfriend any number of stern lectures, but he’s off bothering some other daughter’s mother, and daughter and I are still on good terms.

  10. 10
    Anne Egger says:

    I agreed to be on a committee for a three-year term. For the last year I asked a dear friend to be on my committee. We have been friends for fifteen years. I made a decision out of fear. My friend called me on it. I refused to back down. She resigned from the committee. I have tried three times to apologize and she will not accept my apology. Our friendship of fifteen years is over. I so wish I go back up and do it over.

    • 10.1

      Oh, ouch, ouch, ouch. Worse ouch that you know what you’ve done wrong, apologized for it, and you still get stonewalled. Sounds to me like her position has a tap root that goes beyond the friendship–somebody else did her wrong she can’t let go of, and you’re tarred with the same brush.

      I can carry a grudge as well as the next person, but when the object of my antipathy is before my very eyes, asking for understanding… the grudge eludes my grasp.

  11. 11
    Seanna says:

    My mouth tends to let some horrible things out. I have to say sorry a lot, because I am wrong.

    This is what I use to teach my two year old about sorry, but it works for adults too.

    http://pbskids.org/video/?guid=0bb039a7-a290-452f-87fd-b139ccd3fc2f

  12. 12
    Mary Doherty says:

    Five minutes before I read your post on Facebook, I was think about my 5 year old granddaughter and how I lost my temper with her. I have never lost my temper with my grandchildren. I have gotten mad and them, but still had control of my temper. My grandchildren and I were going to a birthday party and we got lost. I was asking them nicely to be quiet and let me try and find our way. Well, you would have thought I said yell, scream and be as loud as you can.I went to grab my granddaughters leg, she happened to be the closest to me, just to get her attention and my nail scratched her. I felt horrible. She cried and I told her how sorry I was, but it still is on my mind. The normal me would have pulled over and said we weren’t going anywhere until they stopped. But, I was late, I knew my sister was waiting on me (another story with that) and I was LATE! I hate being late. Thankfully My granddaughter forgave me and all is well. A good lesson for me and believe me it won’t be forgotten. Even though it was a accident with my nail getting her, I shouldn’t have grabbed at her like that and not while driving either. As you can tell I still feel very badly about the whole thing.

    • 12.1

      Oh, Mary… I can relate. Seems once we feel under pressure, all our common sense, our usual decency, slips from our grasp. I’ve been under the gun lately, and that has made me very defensive. I know fatigue has something to do with my crankiness, and not having as much time to write as I prefer… So I meditate, and walk, and know that this too shall pass.

      Your granddaughter forgave you, the scratch will heal. There will be other, better birthdays–and your sister can just get a darned clue.

  13. 13
    Ev Bedard says:

    I moved out-of-state when I got married & it was hard keeping in touch with so many friends left behind (1980 & before Facebook, Skype, etc…)I’d lost touch with one friend & felt so bad as her family home was a “refuge” for me during the turmoil of my teen years…I actually called her (at long distance rates–lol) & noted how sorry I was for not keeping in touch & that her friendship (& her family’s support) was still important to me…She accepted my apology & recently when I was in my home state, we shared a brunch & caught up on lives…so glad I made the effort years ago & that the relationship is still alive & thriving…

    • 13.1

      I got one of those calls, from a guy I hadn’t seen in a few years. We’d crossed paths on the horse show circuit, and I’d wondered how he was doing. We had the BEST chat, and I did see him thereafter. He’s older than I am, and made the point that with good friends, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been separated, you can pick up with each other as if it’s only been a short time between visits. Comforting perspective!

  14. 14

    I Loved this article. I step in it quite often. LOL! I went on rant recently due to extreme frustration. I chose an inappropriate moment and vented to someone who had done nothing more than make a suggestion. For some reason it rubbed me the wrong way and I let rip. I apologized within the hour. This person was incredibly gracious and understanding. Things between us are fine now and we moved on. But, saying you are sorry is very important. We all cave under pressure, fatigue, etc. We all have our bad days. That’s what my friend said to me. Apologizing is so vital, but so is forgiveness. I’m so happy my friend had the grace to accept my apology and never mentioned it again. We all make mistakes and hopefully I will think twice before I open my mouth from now on…

    • 14.1

      Good on you for putting things to rights, Julie. Odd how, once we step in it, we seem to be on better behavior for a while. I think we’re also a lot more likely to forgive others for popping off in a bad moment when we’ve been guilty of the same thing.

  15. 15
    Glenda says:

    I’m one of those people who often end up apologizing — to family and friends (not to mention customers, but that is usually a different type of apology than what we are talking about). It happens more often when I am tired, worn out and frustrated. Maybe one day I will learn to think before I speak. . . . Maybe. Until then, I apologize.

    I finished What a Lady Needs For Christmas and LOVED it!! There are so many wonderful things about it! 🙂 Thank you for another wonderful book! I’m curious though. Dante mentions his mother is from clan Brodie. (Yes I did a complete and total mental happy dance here.) I’m curious, did we meet her or other close kin in The Laird?

    • 15.1

      Glenda, you remind of one of the Screwtape Letters, a clever book written by CS Lewis, couched as an old devil’s advice to his young nephew Wormwood for how to wreck a human soul. Fatigue is listed as one of the things that can make somebody more susceptible to bad choices, and my, does that EVER ring true.

      As for Lady Needs, glad you enjoyed it. I’m thinking… there might be a connection. Michael and Brenna’s story takes place around 1817, while Joan and Dante might be celebrating Christmas of 1854ish. So Dante, who’s thirty-ish, might have been born in the Brodie village we know from The Laird, though somewhat later than Michael and Brenna’s story. Or his mother might be one of those Brodies who left the shire during Michael’s absence…

      • 15.1.1
        Glenda says:

        Fatigue is horrible on so many levels!

        I wondered if you had a mental story (or one written down) with the connection. Thanks, Grace!

        Happy Halloween!

  16. 16
    Cyndi says:

    It’s very easy to get caught up in ourselves, what something means to us, and to forget that others are just as emotionally and physically attached. When it feels like it’s not going the way “we” wanted or it’s out of “our” control people almost always do something they later regret. It’s easy to say “I should have thought first”, but it’s more human to find yourself having to say “I’m sorry, I was wrong.”
    Congrats, you’re human.

    • 16.1

      Guilty as charged, and there’s another factor at work here. I don’t know how I come across. Words are my sword and my shield, my briar patch. I get to wielding my verbal cutlass, without realizing that I’ve become so emphatic, so impassioned, that I’m intimidating, or scathingly sarcastic, or I sound nearly unwrapped when I’m just being my usual self.

      My bark gets pretty bitey.

  17. 17
    Donna says:

    You said, “I popped off at somebody because I need to look after myself a little better. ”

    I once read (and I canNOT remember where) that all attack is a cry for help. Good for you for recognizing the source of the problem and apologizing rather than rationalizing.

    • 17.1

      Hmm. I’ll have to think about that: All attack is a cry for help works for children, certainly, but there are people who’ve attacked me who don’t WANT help. They want to win, control, shame, belittle and wound. Maybe the cry for help is in there somewhere too?

      • 17.1.1
        Donna says:

        Oh, I definitely think many cries for help are sub-conscious, that’s why the attack rather than a more reasoned out-reach.

  18. 18
    Mary O-K says:

    “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” (~Carl Jung)

    Being human is hard work, Grace! Bless your heart for knowing when an apology is needed and offering it with empathy.

    Best Wishes,
    Mary O-K

    • 18.1

      The Jung quote has been useful to me, and has helped me unravel a lot of criticism that’s leveled at me. I’m selfish, rigid, unreasonable, unrealistic, inconsiderate of others… rants the guy who never has anything positive, helpful, creative, or tolerant to say about anybody…

      And when people are clever about projecting their faults onto others, they know to choose people about whom the accusation is at least a little, tiny bit true.