Apologizing is something that I learned to do when I was in college. At first I wasn't very good at it. I had spent a great deal of my life prior to that using those moments of sorry to explain and excuse my behavior. Saying "sorry" was the doorway to returning to whatever I was doing before things got all confused and misunderstood. Me, specifically. Who could doubt that my motives were pure? I never meant to do anyone harm. It's not my style, after all. So forgive me.
I spent a lot of time in my youth waiting for apologies from others. As the round kid who was picked last and probably read too much, I expected that I was owed an apology from most of the organizing principles of the universe. I wasn't going to be sending any out. Wasn't it apparent to everyone in attendance that I was obviously the victim of a universe that was always somehow putting me in that spot?
As it turned out, I was completely capable of making bad choices, and stepping on some metaphorical toes. And some actual toes. When I was in junior high school, I found my voice, as it were. Loud. As a teenager, I found myself saying sorry to my parents more and more. I confess that I didn't really mean all of them. I was mostly looking to move on to the next event in hopes that it wouldn't involve apologizing because it took up so much time. I wasn't a juvenile delinquent or anything, I just had my hands full of growing up and occasionally my enthusiasms or doubts or growing pains created the opportunity for me to ask forgiveness. Even if I was unclear about the transaction.
In high school, I began to realize the politics of apology. There was some physics to it. It wasn't just a simple arithmetic problem. There was some mechanics to it. Like so many things about being in high school, I wish I would have understood this better. Adolescence isn't the time of life when people tend to be looking out for the feelings of others, and sadly I was no exception. Staying drunk during the Reagan and Bush administrations did not help this stunted perspective.
It wasn't really until I sobered up that I began to understand the transaction. It wasn't asking for another chance. It was about making the most of the moment that could be mended. I learned that some things cannot be forgiven, but that list grows exponentially if you never bother to ask. It was somewhere in there that I wrote an apology for all men. All those terrible things that we do and say and never bother to go back to see if we have hurt any feelings or broken any hearts. Or simply stunk up the place with all that man smell.
And shortly after that, I fell in love and got married. I couldn't stay married without a good solid apology in my hip pocket at all times. Not just to relieve the stress of a situation, but to repair it. "Are you okay?" Magic words. "I didn't mean to..." but you know you did so don't bother. Go ahead and say you're sorry for what you did and hope that it takes.
That's what I am teaching at school.