Call me a wuss, but I can't sleep at night if I think I've hurt someone's feelings. I will stay up until I've formulated the perfect apology. Sometimes the person to whom I apologize has no idea what I'm talking about. For eight years, whenever I found myself in a foreign country (and I travel a lot), I would apologize for President George W. Bush, even though it certainly wasn't my fault he was elected. If I thought it would make someone's life more pleasant I'd apologize for dropping the bomb on Hiroshima a decade before I was born. I just like things to be nice.
Today, I learned all my years of nice might have done nothing but disempower me. Recent research by Tyler G. Okimoto, Michael Wenzel, and Kyli Hedrick, all from Queensland, Australia, seems to indicate that not apologizing just might make people feel as good about themselves as they feel when they apologize. Sometimes, refusing to apologize is a better, healthier alternative. Could this be true? Were Mom and Dad wrong all these years? Have I been duped?
Okimoto and his team surveyed 228 Americans by asking them to remember a time they had done something wrong. Most respondents remembered trivial offenses, but some recalled more egregious criminal offenses such as theft. When asked whether or not they had apologized for these actions the responses indicated that refusing to apologize provided psychological benefits. In a follow-up exercise, the research team asked the same guinea pigs to imagine a time when they did something wrong and then write an email either apologizing or refusing to apologize. In both cases, refusing to apologize gave people a "boosted sense of integrity." Are you kidding me?
According to the research, it's true. People feel a heightened sense of integrity when they refuse to apologize even to people they know deserve a sincere apology.
Okimoto said on NPR "When you refuse to apologize it actually makes you feel more empowered. That feeling of power and control translates into feelings of self-worth."
Does that mean I should retract the hundreds of apologies I have delivered over the years? Not at all. Apparently, people who apologize don't feel threatened by the act of showing contrition. They already feel powerful in their lives. They have a fully developed sense of self-worth. Being able to freely apologize is a sign of strength, not weakness. I am not a wuss after all! I am a strong, secure woman who can apologize without feeling vulnerable, who doesn't need to hold her ground in order to feel powerful.
So, I'm sorry I made you read this. I'm sorry I don't think like Plato or write like Voltaire. I'm sorry I took up your time. I am really, truly sorry.