Storify: Apologies (Giving and Getting)

Storify is shutting down in May and has informed users that we have to migrate our content elsewhere if we wish to save it. This is one of my old threads.

Sometimes I wonder if we need lessons on how to apologize. EVERYTHING is easier with practice, and apologies doubly so I think. Sometimes people mess up in public on twitter and ask me what they should do. Here's my advice.

A good apology, imo, is short and direct. Not a long rambling explanation, just a clean break so the other person can escape if wanted. If you apologize right, most people will ASSUME you meant well / had good reasons, so belaboring that actually hurts your case, ime.

Some 1-tweet examples of apologies that I think are good.

"I'm sorry. I didn't know that. Thank you for explaining to me; I will do better in the future. I apologize for hurting you."

"You know what? You're right. I screwed up, I wasn't thinking right. I'm really sorry and I apologize for hurting you."

"I still feel like maybe there was a misunderstanding, but I'm very sorry for my part in it. I can see I hurt you and I apologize."

"I don't know that I agree, but I will take what you said on-board and try to do better. I apologize for hurting you and I am so sorry."

@lainasparetime: I like the format that goes around - here's what I did wrong, here's why it was wrong, and here's what I'll do in the future

I've seen this one before, but I don't personally care for it. Ymmv, but in a 140-character tweet, to someone who is hurting and angry, "here's what I did wrong" will often lack nuance and make things worse.

I also really reject the idea that an apology MUST be a learning experience for someone. Sometimes we need time to process! Sometimes we'll process and we won't agree! It's okay to be sorry for harm caused but still decide you don't agree with the other person. I've been yelled at in the past by friends who felt like my apologies didn't illustrate that I'd "learned my lesson". I won't do that, tbh.

I come back to the fact that in-groups won't always agree on everything. And sometimes that causes harm. Something I've had to say "I'm sorry that I hurt you, but I'm still going to use that term. My feed is probably unsafe for you."

Sometimes SJ groups are sensitive to the concept of "non-pologies" but (imo) can start wielding that as a weapon. A failure to agree with your point is NOT a non-pology. You can be apologetic for harm caused but still not agree. And sometimes the disagreement is fundamental enough that the relationship has to end. That's sad, but it doesn't mean they were insincere.

It's important to understand that Being Hurt doesn't equal Being Right. We sometimes forget that in social justice aware groups. And it's even MORE important to remember that apologizing for the harm you caused doesn't equal Being Wrong on the topic in question. There are people who are genuinely, legitimately harmed when I talk about assigned gender at birth in the context of bathroom access. Their hurt is real and valid, but that doesn't mean the topic and verbiage is a simplistic Right/Wrong binary. Triggers can be anything.

When we teach that Being Hurt = Being Right, then people apologize LESS because they don't want to be (and perhaps aren't!) Wrong. And we create a situation where Harm is questioned with hostility because the presence of Harm includes a moral victory. Harm is real and shouldn't be questioned and sleuthed. If someone says you harmed them, take that as real and apologize. That apology means you validate their harm and you're sorry for causing it. It doesn't mean you have to readjust all your beliefs to theirs.

So maybe I should have said: We need lessons in giving *and* getting apologies.

You don't have to accept an apology, btw! You can decide "no, I'm done" and not interact with that person again (or for a time). But--and here's the sticky part where some people may get mad at me--you are STILL responsible for your own actions. Just as Being Hurt doesn't equal Being Right, it's also not a free pass to respond however you want.

I've asked people to leave my mentions before but because they had been hurt, they felt justified in hurting me. That's not okay. Barring very rare situations, you are always responsible for your own actions. Being harmed isn't a free card to commit more harm, imo.

So here is my wrap-up advice.

1. If someone says you've hurt them, believe them. Don't tell them they shouldn't be hurt. Hurt doesn't have to be logical. Hurt is hurt.

2. Understand that you can apologize for the hurt without ceding the argument or having to chuck your worldview in favor of theirs.

3. Apologize briefly and sincerely for the hurt and withdraw to give space for healing away from you.

4a. I recommend NOT doing a 10-tweet thread recapping what you did, and why, and why it was wrong, and how to do better.

4b. I've honestly NEVER seen that help de-escalate a situation, and it can come off VERY badly by centering your Learning over their Hurt.

4c. Others' mileage may vary, but when I'm hurt I don't want to hear what YOU learned today. I want you to apologize and leave me alone.

4d. Rarely do I want you to leave me alone FOREVER. Just for, like, a few hours until I've calmed down.

5. Speaking of, remember that an apology doesn't mean your friendship is OVER FOREVER because HARM and WRONGNESS.

5b. You're not perfect and neither am I. We're going to need to apologize to each other from time to time. That's NORMAL.

5c. Which is another reason not to belabor the apology, in my experience.

5d. Since apologies are inevitable, anticipating the next tortured apology can make the relationship so much more strained.

5e. And long tortured apologies can make people hesitant to point out harm because they don't want to suffer the apology.

5f. I feel most relaxed with people to whom I can say "oh, that kinda hurt?" and they'll be like "oh! sorry, I didn't think" and move on.

6. If you're on the receiving end of an apology, you can choose whether to accept it or not, but don't be an abusive asshole.

7. Know that you WILL fuck up in life and that doesn't make you Bad. It makes you an imperfect person just like everyone else.

7b. If you can excise your feelings that Hurt = Bad, then it will be easier for you to apologize without exacerbating harm.

7c. That's a big "if". I know anxiety disorders won't cooperate. Goddess knows @elibyronbaldrsn has suffered through my LONG apologies.

7d. But it might help to practice on your cats. (Oh, I see I hurt you, Fluffykins! I am sorry. *and stops there*) Or journaling.

7e. And remember that the apology isn't about you. It's about the other person. You canNOT undo harm. You can minimize further harm.

@civilwarbore: yep. Your choices in that situation as the hurt party are p much accept the apology or walk (or a combo).

8. This.

Here are some apology RESPONSE examples.

"What you said really hurt me, but I appreciate your apology. I need some time to de-stress but I'll see you around."

"Thank you for the apology. I need some space for awhile on this topic. I encourage you to read up on it, and good luck."

"I see your apology, but I can't accept it at this time. Please don't contact me anymore; I know where to find you if I want to talk again."

"Okay. My request that you not @ me anymore still stands."

And obviously there are warmer ways to accept apologies. :) My point here is there are non-abusive ways to maintain space and boundaries.

Lastly, try to give people time to grow. Social justice is about growth, but it doesn't happen overnight. I've seen "she still doesn't know what she did wrong!" so many times. It may be true! But has she had time to process? If not... let her? If someone has stopped actively causing harm (a big first step!), let them process rather than demanding a perfect recounting RIGHT NOW.

I think it's okay to apologize in stages. The initial "I see I hurt people, I'm sorry, I'm going to stop right here and have a quiet think", and the later follow-up on "here's how I'm not going to cause that harm again." That may take time to process. Growth often does.

You don't owe them a read of their follow-up. You don't owe forgiveness or association or friendship, to be clear. You own them nothing. But I've never seen value in demanding instant on-the-spot learning and growth, because I don't (personally) think that's possible. Ymmv.

@LouisatheLast: It's really hard to reflect and take time and grow when your back is to the wall with a mob howling for an apology

Pretty much this. And that doesn't mean they're insincere. Humans respond badly when confused and alarmed. For me, the goals are:

1. Active harm needs to stop.
2. An immediate apology for harm caused.
3. A thoughtful follow-up as needed.*

#3 being appropriate in the cases of enormous public fuck-ups. Not necessarily for close personal interactions, but maybe sometimes!

Extra-lastly (ha, I'm sorry for the length of this thread), it's important for me to focus on MY own actions in the face of an apology. If I feel like an apology is insincere, I can just walk away. "Okay." and mute/block the person. That's empowering to me.

Anyway, that's the end of the thread. I hope this was helpful to folks.


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