When I was a kid, and having one of the (in retrospect, many) passive-aggressive-cold-war-turned-violent-blood-feud fights that my siblings and I used to engage in when we were all stuck at home yet sick to death of the sight of each other, I would often be ordered to ‘say sorry, or I’m telling!’
More often than not, if intimidation and/or psychological warfare had failed to force my victim to admit it was their own fault the whole time, I tended to turn pious. “But why should I say sorry?” I’d ask, folding my arms and shrugging, which was my pretend ‘let’s just level with each other’ stance. “I know I’m not sorry. You know I’m not sorry. Do you want me to tell a lie? Lying’s a sin, you know. I’m surprised you’re trying to get me to do that.”
Sometimes it worked (meaning, they gave up). Sometimes it didn't.
|That's me on the left, more or less around the right time period.|
What a huge jerk, right?
Putting aside, for the moment, that I was a horrible, self-righteous little shit, I find myself returning, albeit for different reasons, to the core idea behind my adolescent fear tactics. Namely: why do I and so many other people I know (mostly women, most of us civilized and smart and also wanting to be well thought of by the people around us) spend so much time apologizing for things? Things we aren’t really sorry for? And even beyond that, really – why do we spend so much time apologizing for things that aren’t wrong?
I’m just saying, guys. Sometimes there’s a worryingly thin line between apologizing for bumping someone on the bus and apologizing for taking up the necessary amount of space for your body.
This isn’t a new idea, obviously. The lovely ladies at xojane.com have been talking about it for ages- here is a post that I just read about why everyone should please stop telling women and girls to be 'nicer', because we're already putting up with way too much that we shouldn't have to. Here's another that just goes ahead and calls Emotional Manipulation what it is (also: bonus vocabulary lesson!). The internet could do with more of this stuff. Seriously.
Recently at work, I was politely dismissed by a woman who was in my way. Without getting too much into it: she had a job to do, I had a job to do, we had insufficient space and time to both work that way we wanted to, and I was certain that I had the superior claim to the space and time currently available. I asked her, with slightly less than my usual level of Apologetic, to move her work elsewhere. She refused.
Not only did she refuse – she shook my hand, introduced herself, told me how things were going to go, and continued working with an impressively high level of efficiency – leaving me, summarily dismissed and ignored, to figure out how to work around her.
Now, here’s the thing: she wasn’t actually rude. The situation, while massively inconvenient (we were also both under a serious time crunch) wasn’t her fault. She acknowledged the problem, informed me of her intentions, and then simply refused to budge. When it came right down to it, she was protecting her own work first, all others be damned – and she sure as hell wasn’t apologizing for doing so.
Once my ego had recovered, I realized I wasn’t so much pissed at her as I was jealous of her. I mean, yeah, getting blown off made me feel powerless, and feeling powerless made me angry, and that sucked, but more importantly, I recognized something in her that was strong, and impressive, and I wasn’t at all sure I had it.
Could I do that? Maybe. I don’t know. Most of my hardest work is motivated by the desire not to let other people down (which is sometimes a blessing, sometimes a curse) but I also hate to think I’m causing problems for people – ‘problems’ too often being broadly defined to include ‘minor inconveniences’, ‘delays’ and/or ‘anything that might force a person to look up from their own business and have to deal with something I should be able to do by myself’.
As you may imagine, I spend a great deal of energy on low-level guilt and polite apologies.
As of that day at work, however, I find myself, for lack of a better word, sort of inspired. I want to stop apologizing for stupid stuff – for taking care of myself and my work first, for taking the time I need or want for my own mental health, for asking for help. For taking up space.
I don’t know; it’s still sort of an idea in progress. I’ve spent a lot of time being warned against being selfish, so this is a big leap for me. (Bard, bless them, does an excellent job these days of pointing out all kinds of times when I could stand to be more selfish. Bard and I, obviously, are working with slightly different world views. Most of the time, this is a healthful exercise for everyone.)
But maybe I could learn something from that woman who made me so angry. Adolescent Me would, no doubt, agree.