Is our ability to apologize part of our personality?
I placed a blog regarding a way to apologize with dignity during the Holiday Season. It was apparently a bigger hit than I expected so it led me to reexamine if the strength to apologize is an attribute of our character, something we do because we are led to believe it is necessary to mend an injury or rebuild a bridge, or do we do so merely to measure up to what we believe is the right thing to do?
If personality is a contributing factor, and I believe it to be so, then are some of us more inclined to apologize for a perceived wrong, or only when incontrovertible truth envelopes us in a cloud of discomfort from the glaring eyes of our peers? Science may be arriving at some answers and they seem to be of no great surprise.
It’s hard to even get out of bed each day if your self-esteem cannot rise to a greater elevation than the floor. Our sense of purpose can vary but it does give us the strength to survive the day ahead. There have been mornings I awoke with a happy outlook at the day’s prospects and others where I was still steeped in the anger from yesterday’s events. A tactical approach to my day became an absolute imperative if I was to effectively handle an apology if my mood was sour as a still-green apple.
I created a simple set of rules of for an effective apology to carry me through my discomfort. I knew I could survive an apology if I could grasp the positive resulting from it. Oddly, I was never interested in forgiveness. Guilt and sadness become an anchor to forward momentum I could ill afford. If my apology would bring peace of mind to another for an action of mine, whether real or perceived, I could move beyond the slight and get it behind me.
In my youth, my best friend was also an introvert. One day he simple blurted out we were missing the proverbial boat. Introverts didn’t get what they want not because they lacked popularity but because they didn’t ask for anything. They collected crumbs. Introverts didn’t get the best equipment on the athletic field, if they got onto it at all, and they didn’t date the cheerleaders. I agreed it made for a good point. An additional valid point being my introverted nature was due to my low self-esteem. A dichotomy since I knew I was intelligent, I was well-read (introverts have plenty of time to read as they are not invited to the in-crowd events), and my teachers were constantly informing my parents I was not living up to my potential academically. So I was the problem.
When I asked myself why I was the problem it became rather revealing. It was because you cannot stand on the sidelines if what you really want is to get into the game. The game is where the light is found but light shines on blunders. The answer was I had to become willing to make mistakes. I needed to be able to handle the ridicule or good-natured poking from peers that were once adversaries in my mind.
I convinced myself I could survive mistakes, errors in judgment, and the down side of comradely because others were also bound to make mistakes as well. I found from dropping a ball on an easy catch to the general clumsiness of asking for a date with the wrong timing or wording was not fatal if I could see myself as a work in progress. I would not always be clumsy or a failure if I just kept trying. As my skills grew, my confidence grew. With confidence came what we call self-esteem. When criticism came I had to decide if the proper response was to be a verbal apology or a look of, “it happened to you earlier so stuff your attitude and what is the next play?” If you remove the dividing line between arrogance and sincerity, you get effectiveness as a result.
The research study out of Edmonton at Grant MacEwan University, Andrew Howell found no surprises as participants to his questionnaire revealed those with high self-esteem and compassion are better able to recognize a wrongdoing, confess to it (even if no one had yet found out), and address it. Narcissists don’t feel as if they need to apologize (again, BIG surprise), and lower self-esteem is fraught with difficulty as they were less inclined to offer an apology after a conflict, even if they emotionally felt badly, if they could not connect it to a specific event. It was also revealed general shame was different from actual remorse and the apology might stem from feeling sorry for themselves. As we ban “Woe is me,” from our state of mind we grow stronger in both character and in compassion for others with what we can call empathy.
– Lee Fjelstad
Reference: Habit of Mind; Empathy; The Art of an Apology