F had a tough day.
Every day he’s been student teaching, he’s come home and said, “I really screwed up today,” but for the most part he’s said it ruefully, not hopelessly or angrily. And he’s supposed to screw up. That’s the whole point of student teaching, right?
But today, for the first time, his supervising teacher reprimanded him in front of the class. Apparently, he opened the lesson he was to teach by saying, “Sorry, kids, I got my schedule mixed up. I thought it was time for writing, but it’s time for math.”
Right there, without even taking him aside, his supervising teacher snapped at him. “Never apologize to them,” she said. “What is there to apologize for? NOTHING. But more importantly, now you’ve told them you’re the kind of person who messes up. You’ve undermined your own authority.”
F was so upset he had to take a bathroom break and cry for ten minutes. (That’s my boy.) When I heard this story I told him–truthfully–that her reprimand sounded a little out of character (especially in front of the kids!) and that maybe she was having a bad day. But privately I was glad she said it. Maybe she can shock him out of opening with unnecessary apologies.
It’s interesting how hard we (we many people) work to undermine our own credibility. Obviously not everyone has this problem, but for some of us the desire to please people around us leads to unnecessary obsequiousness, and that leads to being taken advantage of, or at the very least disrespected. (Talk about plans backfiring.) I think to a degree, we’re trained by society to not want people to dislike us–a more serious ramification, for example, is that statistic that many rape victims find themselves in vulnerable positions because they are at first afraid of offending or insulting their attacker (before they realize that they are being attacked). And while I (knock on wood) have never gotten myself into a really dangerous predicament, I’ve definitely bought things I wasn’t interested in, talked to people who were mean to me, and went out on dates even after there had manifested pretty obvious red flags, all because I didn’t want to offend people or have them not like me.It’s the “sorry”impulse. And it’s gotta go.
When I was 17, I had my important “sorry” lesson. I got a job at the Borders in my town, and I worked my patooty off. I really loved it there–obsequious personalities and customer service go well together. I remember, though, a few days before Christmas when the line was wrapping around the store and one of the other clerks overheard me apologize to a customer for the wait. She took me aside and said, “If I ever hear you apologizing again, I’m going to smack you, so help me god.”
“But I can’t help it,” I told her. I knew myself even then.
“Yes, you can,” she said. “You’re going to have to practice. If you MUST say something, say ‘thank you.’ Thank them for waiting instead of apologizing.”
Thanking is a good trick. In many cases, it’s a fake apology. (Interestingly, in Japanese, if you’re REALLY thanking someone, you apologize–instead of arigato you might say domo sumimasen.) Even with this trick, though, I’ve spent the last ten years trying to excise the “sorry” impulse. I’m not quite there yet. Also, I’ve learned that there are times when saying “sorry” is much better than trying to defend an untenable position.
This is something F and I have in common. Although F and I are wildly different in temrs of backgrounds and interests–our respective friends never thought this would work out, since we had so little in common on the surface–we have very similar temperaments. People-pleasing is just one example. “Sorry” is another.
I hope he can break the habit. He is very much an old dog, though. He’s probably as we speak apologizing for his inability to stop apologizing.