The Grammar Girl podcast did a great show this week on how to write an apology. For a while now, I’ve been meaning to write a post about making tough apologies, so I thought I’d piggyback on Grammar Girl’s discussion. The show advised listeners to avoid four kinds of non-apologies (the “if” apology, the passive voice apology, the reverse apology, and the florid fauxpology) and to follow a formula for apologizing effectively:
Acknowledge the offense clearly
Explain it effectively
Restore the offended parties’ dignity
Assure them they’re safe from a repeat offense
Express shame and humility
Make appropriate reparation
(Credit to Dr. Aaron Lazare and his book On Apology.)
In the wake of my father’s death, I received a number of cards from friends and family members expressing their condolences. I truly appreciated these tangible expressions, which came in a slow stream over the course of several weeks. I could read the cards and display them in my home to remind myself of the sentiments they shared, and I didn’t have to immediately come up with words to reassure the sender that I would be ok. Unlike when I received a call or text message, I didn’t feel the need to say anything.
Receiving these cards led me to think about letter-writing, something I used to do fairly often. When I was in college, before texting had reached its current level of ubiquity but well after emailing had taken hold as a common means of communication, I regularly exchanged letters with long-distance friends. Reading and writing them took time, but that time was enjoyable. Rather than dashing off quick texts in the middle of everyday activities, I would set aside half an hour or so to think about what my friend had written to me, respond thoughtfully, and share what was most important in my life at that moment. I had no real expectations with respect to these letters. Sometimes a friend would respond fairly quickly, and other times I would not hear back for weeks, or longer. I didn’t take the delay personally. I understood that my friends were busy people who were living their lives and would respond when they had the time to do so. Receiving a letter in the mail was always a pleasant surprise that brightened my day; it was never something I expected.
“I have two boys and I live in a very conservative area. I love where I live (mostly), but I don’t like how a lot of people around here talk about people with different skin colors and religions, members of the LGBTQ community, immigrants, and women. I don’t want my sons to ever talk like that. Do you have any advice for raising kind and open-minded boys in an area that isn’t always very kind and open-minded?”
Thanks for the question, Rebecca! First, a couple of caveats. I don’t have kids myself (yet), so I’m hesitant to give parenting advice. In particular, I don’t know your kids, their personalities, or how they might respond in various situations, but I’ll do my best to share some general thoughts on this topic.
I recently had the opportunity to visit the Akrotiri archaeological site on Santorini island in Greece, along with a couple of museums housing works of art discovered at the site. Observing items that were created thousands of years before the common era led me to think about humans’ desire to make art. The pieces on display were not limited to pottery designed to hold water and foodstuffs, nor to religious symbols. There were elaborate wall paintings and meticulously crafted sculptures of animals and human figures. Like other artists throughout history, these people of the distant past devoted time and scarce resources to producing beautiful objects that served no obvious utilitarian purpose. Our drive to make things that we don’t really need is unique to humans and appears to be deeply ingrained. Why do we do it?
I struggle with my self-confidence. Do you have any suggestions for building self-esteem? I love your confidence. Do you remember any lessons your parents taught you that helped your self-esteem/confidence?
Thanks for the question, Caroline! First, let me say this: You have just as much right to be on this planet as everyone else. You are a unique, worthy person who has many gifts to give: gifts of perspective, kindness, creativity, and more. We are all works in process, learning and growing as we move through life. Though it may at times seem like others have everything figured out while you’re still struggling to feel comfortable in your own skin, rest assured that everyone has moments of self-doubt.