For the greater part of February, I spent my spare time writing about love…the unconditional kind. I found with each new day my thoughts and perspectives evolved around the subject. I became a sort of “Dear Ashley” love detective, inquiring with friends and anyone who would listen about their views on this seemingly simple topic. I was surprised to find no two people came to the same conclusion about love. A good fifteen hundred words later and I finally felt I was coming to a temporary verdict of my investigation. Sadly my computer wasn’t as attached to the case as I was and decided to reject it from its archives.
So this post…this one you’re reading right now…is not about love. Maybe one day I’ll pick up the pieces and regurgitate what spawned and then disappeared. I will tell you this though…unconditional love…is a practice. Like any other true gift worth giving and receiving, honoring and valuing, you must practice it every single day and not take it for granted. And by that I mean, don’t rely on the past to justify the present, and don’t use the present to guarantee the future. Unconditional love is a choice and a muscle that will turn flabby and lazy should it go unused.
But, like I said, I’m not going to talk to you about love today. Nope, in fact, here’s how I was going to start this entry off….eh hm…“Sorry I haven’t written in a while, I did have this amazing post about love prepared, but my computer ate it…” and then I caught myself. Why am I apologizing? You all didn’t know I had something previously prepared. And I’m pretty sure you haven’t been waiting in front of your computers these past few weeks thinking, ‘Oh man, ‘iseeashley’ is letting me down big time. She hasn’t posted in forever…and I gotta pee!’ So I asked myself, is this a situation worthy of an apology? Which got me thinking…when should one apologize and when is it not appropriate to say, “I’m sorry”?
(Porto, Portugal, 2013)
Once again I have my yoga teacher training to thank for even bringing this topic to the forefront. Day one of training my teachers established a rule “there’s no need to apologize in training…in fact, whenever you say, ‘I’m sorry’ replace it with ‘I’m sexy’.” Not only did I have to catch my habitually unconscious “I’m sorries”, but, I then had to complement…myself.
So, here it goes…the true start to this post… “I’m sexy…I’m sexy…I’m SEXY!” And though I would love to be sharing my love thoughts with you all…at this moment I am feeling more inclined to talk about the act and art of apologizing.
Going through a training where you are learning to catch yourself every time you apologize (99% of the time unnecessarily) your ears start to perk up any time you hear the words, “I’m sorry.” I had never noticed it before, but many people use the words “I’m sorry” almost like a nervous space filler, similar to an “um” or a “like”. Because of the “I’m sorry / I’m sexy” rule, I have never complemented myself so often in my life. I’m sexy, but what in the world am I apologizing for ALL the time? It turns out, nothing. This isn’t a power trip. Honestly, I haven’t done anything wrong. When the light of awareness shines on a given situation, it illuminates the naked truth about things. And the truth is, so many of us poorly misuse the powerful tool of language.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, to apologize is “to express regret for doing or saying something wrong.” So when a yoga teacher in training raises her hand and says, “I’m sorry, I have a question…” You could literally translate this to read, “It’s my fault I should know better, I am to blame.” She is thus communicating shame and taking on unnecessary blame for simply asking a question. Oh hell no. What she really meant to say was, “Excuse me, I have a question,” or simply state the question. Considering the power of language, the effects of verbal abuse for instance, are excessive and unwarranted apologies actually harming us? It seems a meek attempt to be polite can cause us to in fact belittle ourselves with these false admissions of guilt.
Psychology Today identifies three distinct forms of apology: offers of compensation, expressions of empathy, and acknowledgment of violated rules and norms. While these situations all warrant sincere apologies, I am arguing there is a fourth category that we mistakenly put apologies into. Every time you accept responsibility (and perhaps blame) for something that was out of your control…that you didn’t do. There is no need to apologize for stating what it is you truthfully need to say.
(Tapasya, Lisboa, 2013)
Now that I think about it, I wonder too if we use apologies for expressions of empathy too often. “I’m sorry you aren’t feeling well”… “I’m so sorry your husband left you.” I understand why this is an accepted form of apology. We are relating to how the other person feels in the situation. However, it’s the ownership part of saying, “I’m sorry” that has me stumped. Why do we need to take on the other person’s experience so personally?
The lovely and wickedly smart Brene Brown has some heart felt words to share on the subject of empathy. She thoughtfully describes empathy as the ability to “feel with people”. In which case when we say, “I’m sorry you are going through ‘such and such’” we are really trying to admit that we know what it feels like to be in that person’s shoes. If we have the opportunity to “fuel connection” with our words, then why don’t we say just what we mean? “I’m sorry” in this situation, is a space filler. It’s empty, wasted and probably falling on deaf ears. When one is communicating an apology as an expression of empathy, speak from the heart. Put your hand on your heart and start there, really connect with what that person is going through. But you don’t have to take it on. I agree with Brene Brown, “Rarely does a response make something better, what makes something better is connection.”
(Tapasya and I, Lisboa, 2013)
What I’m hoping I’m bringing a dash of awareness to… is to be mindful with your words. Just because we have the ability to speak doesn’t mean we should say whatever comes to mind. You never know what needless harm you might be causing yourself or others with your words. So, take a moment, connect, inhale, then speak…from a place of centeredness. No unnecessary apologies will stem from this place, only true connected communication.
And if you do find yourself exhaling a self-blaming “I’m sorry”, it’s a wonderful opportunity to send some “I’m sexy” self flattery your way.