30 December 2016

When I was a kid, I learned a lesson that my young mind promptly forgot about, until now.

My younger brother and I were playing on the carpet in the new house.  He had recently received an action figure toy, perhaps a power ranger?  It was scattered on the ground among his other loot.  I had my toys out, too, and we were imagining wild adventures and escapades.

I went to pick up his new action figure, and realized it had broken at the arm.  I didn't know how to fix it, so I showed it to him, and he immediately started wailing.  My father walked over to see what was going on, and I instinctively, as I have always done and still do, apologized.

Instantly, both my father and brother were scolding me for having broken the toy.  I knew it was already broken, that I hadn't touched it before.  I knew I wasn't at fault.  But at the time, I thought that the right thing to do was to take the blame so it could be resolved quickly.  Even if you don't mean it, you apologize to your brother.  And I felt bad about it.  So I said sorry, over and over again, without confessing the truth that I was innocent.

An hour or two later, when things had settled down, I realized what I couldn't articulate about the results of my actions.  Probably a realization other people have always known, but I've always had trouble with it.

An apology is an admission of guilt.

An apology is not a bandaid, or a salve, or a step toward resolution.  An apology is not a gift or a courtesy.

An apology is a fancy way to say, "I am at fault here."

And sometimes that feels good to say, even if it isn't true.  Sometimes it feels good to admit wrongdoing, because it takes the heat off of accusations.

But I apologize for everything, to everyone.


Other people don't.

So other people don't encounter the backlash of suddenly NOT saying sorry.  The assumption that you're just being a bitch this week, because your spine is in the way of someone else's convenience.

If I tried to view it from an outside perspective, I would assume that my apologizing does two things:

  • It makes people uncomfortable.  They have to constantly reassure me, and that must be infuriating.  I'm...sorry?
  • It gives people the impression that I am literally constantly fucking up.  If I'm apologizing nonstop, then I am doing things wrong nonstop.  And then they really begin to believe it - and I can't connect with anyone when they think I'm a royal screw up who can't keep her shit together.

He sits beside me in the car and listens to me insist that I will no longer apologize for things I have no responsibility for.  Listens to me say I will not be responsible for more than I can handle anymore.  Will not TAKE responsibility for them by apologizing out of turn.  These are luxuries most other people take for granted on a daily basis, common themes of adulthood that are simply assumed with anyone who isn't me.

And his response is, "Okay, but, you know, if you do that forever, it just kind of makes you a bitch."

If being a bitch means knowing my limits, knowing where to draw lines, refusing to be taken advantage of, and not being punished for things outside of my reasonable control,

then call me Bitch with a capital B.

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