3 Things You Should Never Apologize For
The woman, Linda, was a small woman, but everything about her was big. Her bear hugs, her Julia Roberts laugh, her heart.
I used to catch her pacing underneath the apricot tree, her steps punctuated with a drag from her cigarettes, her forehead lined with worry. But then spying me over the low fence that separated our backyards, her face would break out into a big smile.
Linda was a single mother struggling on a waitress salary. Her husband ran off with a near pubescent girl and left her to fend for herself and their two small children. Aside from him, she had no family to lean on.
I was in grade school when Linda became my neighbor. When my mom and I dropped by, she treated us like royalty, offering my mom her favorite chair, serving us lemonade in her nicest glasses and pouring herself one in a cheap plastic tumbler from a dollar store.
When she invited my mother over, Linda often appeared embarrassed and uncomfortable, apologizing throughout their conversation for her house being messy, the curtains not matching, the cookies being served on a chipped plate, and on and on. Regardless of my mom’s repeated assurances of how lovely everything was, how enjoyable her company, Linda couldn’t make herself see what my mother saw.
I didn’t like these moments when Linda’s air of largeness went away.
But she was not one to accept help. As you might imagine, she was proud, intent on making it on grits and hard work alone. That fact made my mother very protective of the young woman.
Luk ai is a Lao* word for losing face, shame or embarrassment. My mother made sure Linda didn’t experience luk ai. This was an important lesson I learned from my mother.
Generosity is not only about the things you give, or the willingness to give. It is also the care you take in the preservation of another’s dignity.
So the two women worked out a barter system. When she needed a ride or the use of our phone, Linda reciprocated by babysitting me and my sisters.
I loved spending time in the kitchen with Linda, grilling a sandwich or baking a cake. She didn’t seem to mind my clumsiness, my spilling things and breaking things. I remembered her singing along with the radio while she taught me how to cook, or while the cake was baking, grabbing my hand and twirling me around in her kitchen.
Linda was, undoubtedly, an extraordinary woman. Yet, she failed to separate her strength and beauty from the poverty. She seemed to have forgotten that circumstances would always temporary but that your spirit is a permanent force to be reckoned with. To me she was one of the most successful women I’ve ever known. To this day, every time I bake a chocolate cake, I remember her.
There are three things in this life you should never apologize for.
Apologizing for your money or status. Linda defined herself by her circumstances. I defined her by her character, and I saw a woman worth respecting and admiring.
I think it safe to say we all have been Linda’s. There was a time I hesitated to bring rich friends over to my house because I was afraid of being judged or pitied. There was a time I felt I didn’t deserve the confidence of those who believed in me when my career stalled and I lacked direction.
At the present, I am yet at the place I need to be, and I am in danger of apologizing. But I won’t. What is different now is the level of respect I have for myself. I have come to value my worth based on my character, my well-crafted values and my ability to weather tough challenges.
On the other hand, you should never have to apologize for your success. If you worked hard for it, you earned it.
Apologizing for someone else’s bad behavior. If you ever dined out in a large group, there is bound to be one person who stiffed you and didn’t chip in his or her share. I used to make up the difference. I have now absolved myself of this habit. And for the habit of apologizing when someone in my group was being rude to the wait staff, as I felt it reflected badly on me. I may no longer apologize for someone else’s misbehavior but I make sure that my own is impeccable.
Apologizing for having a different point of view. Chances are you have heard a colleague utter these words in a meeting.
“I’m sorry but I disagree.”
The apology often comes off as disingenuous. It’s likely that the person saying it is not sorry. Besides, anything uttered before the word “but” is treated with suspicion or is completely ignored. People wait to hear the stuff after the “but.”
We tend to preface our opinion with an apology because we don’t want to appear abrasive or ruffle feathers. Nothing wrong with exercising diplomacy; however, if you feel strongly about something, own your opinion. In the course of the conversation if you find out you are wrong, then apologize.
Your turn: What do you think we should never have to apologize for?