Thursday, December 1, 2011

Things they never tell you: Do not apologize first


Should we always apologize first or are we better off standing our ground?


We have always been taught, mostly by adults, that when it comes to altercations, it is always better to be the bigger person and apologize first in order to facilitate resolution. Ironically, this rule doesn't seem to always apply in the realms of adulthood. Sometimes apologizing first and accepting blame can actually hurt your credibility and your chance to be heard.

A recent intense spat (which escalated into a yelling match) between a friend who was a few years my senior taught me that age does not equate maturity, in which my willingness to concede to an apology only further validated his personal attacks. I have always been a believer that ego has no place in apologies and I am very quick to drop mines in exchange for understanding and resolution. I also am adverse to confrontations, contrary to popular belief. In a world where our peers are becoming increasingly self-centered and skeptical of everyone but themselves, my honest concessions are hard to swallow and are interpreted as superficial or mocking, instead. Funny how apologizing can rear the very opposite of a resolution.

When you are the prosecutor/instigator of an argument, you start off feeling justly provoked in your accusations from the beginning. In conceding to apologize first, the prosecuted unwittingly accepts blame and gives credence to the prosecutor's argument. But we all know that it takes two to tango, and the prosecutor can be just as guilty in their method of attack, in jumping to conclusions before proper discussion, or for missing the point altogether and escalating a neutral incident based on outside factors (they had a rough day) or prejudices. This does not mean that their emotions of hurt or betrayal aren't valid; it is, and very much so, but to apologize for this when the accused is not in the wrong will only hurt you in the end. In apologizing, you will never get the opportunity to point out the attacker's logical fallacies and explain yourself. You have just granted them permission to vilify you further. Any counter arguments that you may have had is rendered pointless.

In the end, the friend took my apology as mockery and admittance of guilt. It strengthened his attack to using ad hominem. Nothing was resolved. No apology was reciprocated.

So the question is, should you always be the first one to lay down the peace pipe? Sadly, human nature has taught me that the answer is no. Not at first. When someone is coming at you with guns flaring, the best solution is to acknowledge that they are upset (not apologize for it) and inform them that you would love to discuss this at a calmer time because you want to resolve the issue.

The silver lining to every altercation is that there is always a few lessons to be had. I know now how this person likes to argue (they let things build up), and that the root of the matter is not personal (due to the disproportionate degree in which this person reacted to the cause).

Relationships dissolve every day, and in this case, I'm glad it had to happen.


1 comment:

Margaret said...

I'm sorry that happened to you. I agree that in the heat of the moment when egos and emotions are flaring, sometimes it's best to have both parties breathe and come back at a calmer time to discuss.

In general, I think it's best to show empathy and aim for understanding and if an apology is warranted, then fine. Unfortunately, egos can make an apology seem like a shameful thing, when it shouldn't be.

Nobody is perfect, and even before offering words of apology, a listening ear is needed.

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