Oh, before I start, there’s a new interview with me up at Paperback Dolls, done on the Saturday night during Dragoncon. It’s pretty decent, I think, though I could have sworn it went on longer than that. Maybe it was just because the interviewer was really fun to talk to. It was my first ever face-to-face, talk-into-a-recorder interview, too!
So I do wish I’d been more comfortable/experienced with that. And, you know, that I didn’t sound so silly and like I wasn’t actually answering the questions posed. Sigh. But still, it’s fun, and Caitlin came to hang out with us partway through so she’s in there too, which is of course awesome except all of our little asides and stuff aren’t in there, heh. Anyway. Go read it if you like.
I’ve also done another interview, with Julie at Yummy Man and Kick Ass Chicks, which was, again, lots of fun. That’s going to be posted at some point tomorrow, Saturday the 11th. (Which, has everyone forgotten what that day is? I don’t think we should have a national day of mourning forever, but I do think it’s sad and upsetting that I’m not even seeing mention of it anywhere.)
Anyway. A few months ago I had a discussion with a few friends about this subject, and now it’s come up again. Will someone please tell me when everyone decided that they had to be right all the time, that they never had to take blame for or accept responsibility for their mistakes or the effects their words and/or actions have on others, and that apologizing in any way is a terrible, weak, dumb thing to do?
As I think I’ve said before, we all–every single one of us–has at one time or another hurt another person. We said something we didn’t mean. Or we meant it when we said it but regretted saying it after. Or it was a flip, throw-away comment, made as a joke, that inadvertently really hurt or upset someone else. Or made them angry. Or whatever. Maybe we were having an off day. Maybe they were simply someone who doesn’t and never will understand us, and so the ability to connect and follow meanings just isn’t there.
We’ve all done it. All of us. We’re human, and that’s what humans do. Show me a person who has never in their lives hurt another person and I’ll show you a person who’s spent their entire lives in one room, or who has simply never spoken to anyone, although even then, what if someone tried to speak to them, and they didn’t reply? Wouldn’t that be hurtful? I think so.
But when did it become such a horrible, evil thing to do to just say you’re sorry? When did we decide we would rather argue and argue and argue, instead of just saying, “I’m sorry,” and letting the matter drop?
My friends and I were discussing a few of the biggest internet kerfuffles of the last year/year and a half or so, and how big they got, and how painful they were for so many people, and how in pretty much every case, the whole thing could have been avoided had one person, early on, just said, “You know, I’m not sure I understand why you’re upset, but it’s enough for me to know you are upset, so I really want to apologize because I certainly didn’t want to hurt you or make you angry.”
Apologizing is not giving in. Apologizing is not admitting you’re wrong. You don’t have to believe you’re wrong to apologize. It’s simply the right thing to do. The polite, civilized thing to do. And in a society which is supposed to be polite and civilized, I notice a disturbing number of people lately who don’t care who they hurt, who don’t care how many people they drag through the mud or rip apart, who don’t care how much filth spills over onto other people who had the misfortune of being in the same area. It’s all worth it if they get to prove they’re right. They are unequivocally, absolutely, totally right, and all the people who don’t see that are obviously morons with no soul, and if Person A just explains him- or herself enough times, or offers enough justifications, then Person B will of course realize how wrong they’ve been, bow meekly, and walk away, leaving Person A victorious.
Except life doesn’t work that way, and people don’t work that way, and all that will happen is everyone will get angrier and angrier and angrier, and friendships and reputations will be ruined and psyches scarred, just because everyone had to be right.
Why is it so damn hard to just say, “I’m sorry?” To just be graceful, and admit that although you meant no offense, obviously whatever you said or did had an unintended consequence? Why are people so reluctant to do that, why are they so determined to sacrifice the feelings of anyone and everyone else just so they can be right? Why are they so determined to convince themselves and the other people involved that they were wrong to be offended, or to take the comment that way? That it’s all their fault for being oversensitive, or babyish, or for expecting special treatment? People will rely on the worst self-serving pop-psychology bullshit to justify their own nastiness and insensitivity, because apparently just acknowledging and respecting the feelings of another human being is just way beyond their skill level, or what they’re prepared to do.
I don’t get it. It pisses me off. Grow up, you fucking morons. Just apologize, the way an adult does. Only a child needs to insist on being right all the time, and in resorting to this “blame the victim for their obviously skewed worldview” crap so they can avoid taking responsibility for their own actions. And you know, if you’re like that, and you seriously need so bad to be right all the time and to believe that you personally exist in this ethereal bubble of spiritual, social, and mental perfection that no mere mortal can possibly understand, then go fuck yourself, because you’re an asshole.
Yes, there are some people who deliberately set out to hurt or offend others. But most people don’t. I get that. Most of us get that. And like I said above, we’ve all done it. I can totally understand the “I really don’t understand what I did to upset you,” feeling. I’ve been there. I can totally understand the “That’s really not what I meant, and I find it pretty impossible to even understand how you misunderstood me so thoroughly, or why you assumed the worst like that.” I’ve been there too. I understand how it hurts to be misunderstood like that, because again, been there. I’ve been on the giving and receiving end of hurt feelings and offense. And it’s not pleasant. It’s not fun. Nobody likes to be hurt, and honestly, no decent person likes to think they’ve hurt someone else.
But sometimes we just have to suck it up, you know? If I make a joke about trees, and someone’s cousin married a tree and they then take offense, I need to apologize. By doing so I’m not admitting what I said was wrong. I’m not admitting defeat. I’m not admitting that I am an anti-tree hatist of the most evil proportion. I’m just saying that I didn’t mean to hurt or offend them. How is that wrong? How is that a lie? How is that insincere? Why is that so hard for people?
And even if I think both the person and their cousin are completely nut-rot crazy, I apologize. Yes, because again, I hurt or offended them, and that’s not a good thing to do. But also because perhaps someone offended by something like that is a bit unstable or is simply having a really bad, painful day, and by apologizing I can make them feel better. Maybe someone offended by that is the type who’ll stick around arguing for hours and hours, who’ll start spamming the blog or sending crazy emails, and I can head all of that trouble off at the pass just by saying I’m sorry. (That’s another thing too, about the Need To Be Right: why do you spend so much time and energy arguing with someone online? Why not just shrug and walk away? Stop replying to comments about it, stop engaging in discussions about it. It’s very simple. Let it go.)
By arguing and arguing, and needing so badly to be right, I prove not only what an insecure, needy little twat I am, but that I truly have no manners, that I truly am a selfish boor. Who wants to hang out with that kind of person?
There comes a point in every argument where the best thing to do is simply to give up. I believe that when you’re hurt someone, it’s your duty to apologize right away. But if that’s not what the argument is about, or if it’s past that point or whatever, there is still a sense of class and grace in being the one to walk away. It doesn’t make you look weak; just the opposite, in fact. Being willing to apologize, being willing to say that although you can’t agree, you don’t want to argue anymore, makes you look braver, stronger. It makes you the bigger person. I admire someone who can gracefully apologize and walk away. I do not admire someone who will resort to anything, any argument no matter how low, any justification no matter how crappy, any defense no matter how far-fetched and desperate, to prove themselves right. And especially, to lay the blame on the other person.
You know what? An argument–whether in real life or, especially, online–isn’t a fucking trial to save you from a murder rap. You’re not trying to escape a death sentence. It’s just not that damned important; it shouldn’t be, certainly. It shouldn’t be so important that your entire self-worth and self-image hinge on you being deemed THE VICTOR in this particular throwdown. It’s just a disagreement. You apologize and move on. And you know, if you’re so offended by the other person taking offense, maybe all of the bullshit you’re trying to ascribe to them apply to you as well, hmm?
It’s never pleasant to be told something you said or did was taken badly and upset someone. Nobody likes to feel like the villain. And certainly, when there are issues like racism or sexism involved, that can be really upsetting. But the way to prove that you’re not isn’t by arguing and yelling and claiming anyone who saw that in your statement is obviously a moron and way oversensitive. The way to prove you’re not is just to apologize. “Oh, man, it didn’t even occur to me that someone would read my comment that way. I’m so, so sorry it made you feel like that!”
It’s very easy. It’s part of being a member of society, whether that’s an online one or a Real Life one. And it’s part of being a decent person, frankly.
You don’t need to be right. You do need to behave like a human being. Just fucking apologize. Or soon you’ll have no one to apologize to, because no one will be speaking to you–except, perhaps, a couple of other sycophantic tools, but how long do you think that will last, when you’re all so rude, unpleasant, and convinced of your own superiority?
You hurt someone, you own your words. Whatever. Just do it. Grow the hell up.