January 4, 2014 in Washington Voices

Front Porch: Cutting down on apologies in 2014 tricky but needed

By The Spokesman-Review
 

I’m sorry, but this year I’ve decided to apologize less. It’s my only resolution.

While I’m a good goal-setter and always have some daily, monthly and yearly aspirations I’m working toward, I’ve always shied away from New Year’s resolutions. They have a bad reputation for demoralizing and that’s no way to launch a year.

Still, I like the practice of looking back and learning from the past year so I can look forward to living the next one. It’s like servicing your car so it can better handle the bumps ahead. There’re sure to be some bumps ahead.

I learned a lot while navigating last year’s bumps, the ones that grew into mountains and plummeted into valleys. Frankly, I’m still a little winded and need more time and space to put it all into perspective.

But one lesson stands in stark relief. I have good friends and loving family who’re willing to stick around no matter what kind of road I’m on. Because of them I know I’m OK. It may seem strange, but that’s what I need to apologize less.

Apologies have their place. If I’ve hurt someone I love or caused damage to anyone else, an apology is in order. But it’s time to curb the extraneous “I’m sorrys” – the apologies offered to keep the peace and calm the cranky.

I don’t need to second-guess every decision or do apologetic damage control when living my life according to my values and priorities happens to interfere with someone else’s expectations.

You see, using apologies in an attempt to make life a little smoother is a slippery slope.

It starts with small sorrys.

At the coffee shop you buy a no-bake cookie to share with your son. For a week you’ve both been craving the chocolaty goodness that melts in your mouth. But it’s the last one and the guy in line behind you grumbles and glares. He wanted a cookie, too.

This isn’t grounds for an apology, but one slips out with a sheepish shrug.

The interaction should be innocuous, but spoken words are a powerful thing. Sometimes saying it makes it so.

After too many apologies like that one, I’ve found myself feeling guilty long past the last bite, letting someone else’s discontent poison a moment that should have been savored.

It’s silly to apologize for experiencing good things, just because someone else wants it for themselves, whether it’s a cookie or a promotion. I don’t want to be the woman who apologizes for landing a new client, so I’m going to stop apologizing for eating cookies.

That isn’t the only extraneous apology habit I plan to break. From here on out I hope to remain without remorse for setting boundaries. As I align my time, money and energy with what’s important to me and my family, chances are good it will upset someone.

I’ve seen it before.

As someone who has a tendency to take on too much, I periodically have to sift my priorities and pare back my commitments.

Sometimes this is painless, but I still remember the reaction of an acquaintance years ago when she asked me to volunteer time at a charity event she was planning.

“No. I’m stretched too thin,” I said. “I can’t help this time.”

She was furious. She’d counted on me saying “yes” to her worthy cause, especially since she too was overcommitted and clearly needed help. Then she said some hurtful things about my character.

I apologized but stood firm. And I agonized over our conversation until I realized she was as mad at herself for saying “yes” as she was mad at me for saying “no.”

More recently, that conversation came to mind when a friend told me that to truly follow your dreams and go after what you really want, you’re bound to disappoint or upset someone.

I’m learning to be OK with that, without apology.

Jill Barville can be reached by email at jbarville@msn.com

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