It’s rare that I agree with the late John Wayne, but his line as Captain Nathan Brittles in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon cuts to one of my pet peeves, what my good friend Cheryl Ilov, author of Forever Fit and Flexible: Feeling Fabulous at Fifty and Beyond, calls Excessive Apology Disorder.
“Never apologize, mister, and never explain – it’s a sign of weakness.” Wayne’s line is a bit over the top, for if one has hurt or offended another, then the ethical thing to do is to apologize.
American society is rife, though, with EAD. One hears it everywhere from friends and family to interactions in the public realm. My European friends tell me how they find Americans curiously super sensitive, which is ironic given our current national pastime of internecine social-political warfare.
Imagine the scenario we all have been in, one in which you are more than asked to participate in an activity, to take on a responsibility, or to do someone a favor when you are unable, would be heavily inconvenienced, or simply don’t want to. Now, I am not talking about serious and critical situations involving life and death or other circumstances that rise to the level of true emergencies as opposed to those in lives that seem to be filled with emergencies.
How do you respond? Do you comply, go along? If so, happily or grudgingly?
If happily, despite being very inconvenienced, then perhaps you are a true glutton for punishment. In which case, I ask one question: Seriously?
If grudgingly, then perhaps you ought to ask yourself why you readily and meekly give up your personal power to another.
Even a refusal to comply that is introduced or accompanied with an apology works to disempower. Compounding the disempowerment is the compulsion to explain.
“I’m so sorry. I can’t… because I have to…”
Check yourself: How often do you make such a statement feeling obligated to explain, often fumbling for words and thinking quickly on your feet to come up with a reason as if you are guilty of some heinous transgression for not complying when, in fact, you simply do not want to or cannot comply?
A good friend recently told me about a quandary he found himself in when his friend came up with this wonderful scheme of a project in which my friend not only didn’t want to participate but also was convinced that he would end up doing most of the work. As we talked it through, I suggested he simply tell his friend, “No, that’s not going to work for me.” No apology and no explanation required. Simple and clean. End of discussion.
Another told me about a work incident in which she was the victim of another’s accusations but was being urged to apologize to the offender, on the basis the offender being elderly and set in his ways. I suggested to defuse the situation that she consider offering that she felt sad about how it came about, which was true, rather than apologizing to the old coot.
Then, there are those in the habit or feeling the need to make excuses for others, to rationalize poor behaviors: “She’s wrong, but…” Oops! There should be a period after “wrong.” No buts about it.
Habitual submission and catering to the will, whim, and wants of others leads to personal dis-empowerment and entitlement of others exhibiting boorish or insensitive behaviors.
Re-empowerment begins with stanching the bleeding of self-disempowerment. And that begins with breaking the habit of apologizing for stuff you didn’t do and using more frequently a very simple two-letter word that says it all: No.