When is it wiser to show vulnerability? At what point do you think setting boundaries for others becomes building walls for ourselves?
Sometimes, in dealing with a stubborn student, I used to find it more effective to model being apologetic myself than calling them out on their inappropriate behavior. Shaheed, I’m really sorry that I had to give you a consequence in front of the whole class like that. That’s pretty embarrassing, and I can see why it would make you angry. But can you see why I needed to give you a demerit?
It’s a risky move, and certainly one I rarely tried. After all, there was always the chance that the child might be the type to view this type of discipline as being “soft.” Maybe somewhere down the line, that child might remember the exchange and view it as permission to repeat his or her behavior, or at least see what else he or she could get away with. But if the goal was to get the child to admit his or her own poor choices, well, it was often a highly effective approach.
Because the longer I work in schools, the more I learn about the way we work. Anything we do, we were taught at one point, either through explicit lesson or through subconscious observation. And apology does not come to us innately, the way mothering comes instinctually to many mammals. Rather, it’s a skill to be honed and an art to be perfected.
I have great respect for people who can apologize. I don’t mean the trivial, compulsive apologizing that some silly, insecure girls do all day long because they’ve been socialized to do so. Sorry to bother you! Omigod, sorry for asking, but… Sorry, but I didn’t hear that the first time. Sorry, but can I borrow a pen? These are not true apologies; these are the needy bleats of someone desperate for approval. The best apologies are made out of the desire to make someone else feel better, and not yourself, as true apologies are selfless in their conception. It’s one person momentarily putting aside his or her own urge for self-preservation out of deference for another.
The best apologists are unafraid to lay themselves at the feet of another for the sake of their heart. You should seek them out, because they make the best friends and most cherished of partners. Because saying you are sorry means having the empathy to understand someone else’s hurt feelings and the backbone to paint yourself—sometimes even falsely—as the villain, if that’s what it takes. It means trusting someone else enough to know they will not take advantage of you. And that’s not a weakness; that is a strength.