i’m sorry my apology sounds insincere, I’ll try to make it more convincing next time


Most of what I do as a counselor, besides deep listening, is to help hold pain. Injuries linger long after the horror of events/words have slithered across my clients’ fragile hearts. Age matters not a bit; traumas big or small, remain. One reason I’m contracted to assist in the soothing of psychic wounds is that the ‘perpetrators’ and witnesses haven’t acknowledged the hurt, haven’t apologized. Or they’ve apologized in a vague way: I’m sorry I hurt you, instead of stating what they did: I’m sorry I called you a bitch in the kitchen on Saturday. No matter how angry I am, I shouldn’t call you names.

Apologies don’t always have to mean you’re wrong, the other’s right, you did anything deliberately. They’re more about empathy, about caring that the other’s hurt, that the relationship means more to you than your self-pride or the polarized world of right/wrong, bad/good.

No one wants reasons either, at least not up front; those won’t salve the wound. There can be explanations but only after one is attentive to the others’ pain. Apologies are not about you or about being forgiven; they’re about compassion.

My friend, “Fred,” was often left waiting for his dad to pick him up from elementary school, sometimes over two hours, as other kids left, then teachers, then janitors…there was Fred leaping on curbs, skidding rocks and otherwise entertaining himself until his dad finally showed. Before Fred could get into the car he’d hear, “Wow, you’ll never guess who I met up with,” or “The coolest thing happened,” ad nauseum. Fred wasn’t given an apology but a “fun” excuse so there wasn’t room for him to have his own feelings of frustration, fear or anger—but he’d learned long before 3rd grade to suppress pretty much any true emotions around his self-absorbed parents.

Once, when Dario was two-ish, we biked past a crying toddler. He became distressed and asked me to turn back to “see her again” suggesting we hug her. By then her mom was there comforting. For the rest of the ride home, Dario continued to postulate why she’d been crying and what we might’ve done to “happy her.” There’s nary a young kid who doesn’t have natural empathy.

This is what happens to empathy:

  • If you don’t receive any you don’t have any to give. You can’t dispense something you rarely feel. If apologizing is seen as weakness or fulfilled in right/wrong thinking instead of a compassionate act of soothing distress, pride sets in and spins kindness into selfishness.
  • Our paradigm shames or belittles those who want to care, who’re exhibiting emotional pain or grief and often reveres those who don’t. It’s manly to disregard needs in others, in themselves, to not cry, to be “strong.”

Ironically, compassion is where true strength lives.

Attempt an apology that’s NOT about defending your position. Instead: Listen! Accept another’s suffering whether you think it’s justified or not. Remember? It’s not about you. What you think doesn’t really matter. Lastly, be specific and ask what can be done to resolve the hurt. There’ll be space for explanations, for your opinion afterwards. Be a soft witness to the other first. Especially with children—Please! But truthfully, we all have a “fair/unfair meter” within us and we hunger for this same tender treatment.

you as you, it is it, as it is

The closer the U.S. gets to election time, the more it feels like a force feed. I’ve been on a serious news/media diet for some years now. The Stewart/Colbert team give me the farcical sound bites illuminating the one-up-ness polarization inherent in U.S. politics, I read choice tidbits and listen to Fresh Air. During election season I mostly fast.

Occasionally I get duped. Like with Michelle Obama’s DNC speech. FB friends were happily raving with one saying, “Dems got their sexy back.” (that I do agree with). Michelle talks and I love her spirited Self and her fun/first-class dress displaying her strong “yes we can!” shoulders. But then, this: “Every day, the people I meet inspire me…they make me proud…they remind me how blessed we are to live in the greatest nation on earth…” la la la la blah blah blah.

In real life People, there is NO greatest, ultimate, perfect, best; there’s just what you like. That doesn’t make it best; that’s what’s “best” to you. Every time you assert that what you favor is the greatest you’re insulting someone, manifesting arrogance, being a bore.

We won’t let our children boast: “I draw better than everyone,” or “I’m the best player on my team.” Why? It’s polarizing and disrespectful. When someone says they live in the greatest country in the world, how haughty (and patently untrue) is that?! Most of my family lives in Tuscany. I wonder if they’d agree that the U.S. is “the greatest.” On just the food front, I loudly and unequivocally challenge that assertion.

Good/bad comparisons are a major dysfunctional component of the patriarchal paradigm. We loathe them in politics but we do this in our lives all the time. I bought the best laptop. I use the ultimate smartphone. The Patriots are supreme. Really? The first two may be better designed for some situations and may be easier to use than many but that still doesn’t make them “best,” and the Patriots will be down soon enough.

Must we compare, elevate or denigrate? Why can’t we just prefer the city we live in, our school, our religion, the wine, the book, the olives, the bread without pompously declaring it’s the ultimate? It may seem safer to impose your opinion as fact but it doesn’t make it true.

How about we replace:  “This pizza’s good,” “That dog sucks,” “These are the crispest apples” with: “I love thin pizzas!” “I don’t like yappy dogs,” “These apples are my kind of crisp.” The pizza, the dog and those apples are what they are despite your personal proclivities. Let things, teams, towns, countries and people be as they occur—without qualifying them as better, best or worst—in and of themselves. They’re existence isn’t just in relation to you.

Respecting differences, celebrating diversity, honoring others’ favorites will bring us all more happiness. When the Orioles make a splendid play I’ll cheer even if I’m fond of the Mariners. A fine play is a fine play regardless which team achieved it. Yes?

rabble, rabble, rabble : : women create, men destroy

I War the Mask

When I was 15, I had an epiphany I just knew was true and was stoked to tell my parents. I burst into the kitchen where my dad was at the table drinking coffee, my mamma standing by the fridge. I gush: Women are life! and men are death! Pause, beat. Mamma turns with a half smile to her blender and my dad crankily says, “What crap.”

So, it’s not without a bit of trepidation that I repeat this here.

Women—in general—bring life to things: spin food-stuffs into food, knit, sew, plant flowers and vegetables, arouse lilos (penises), create new humans, nurture said humans, domesticate animals…

Men—in general—like demolition. They do create things but many of those things—in general—destroy, either directly or inadvertently: my brothers fashioned blocks, Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs so they could knock them down; often men raze something to build something else and—most of all—they adore and build tools. Unfortunately, they frequently call weapons “tools” and engage in the patriarchal win/lose, right/wrong paradigm most deadly displayed as war.

Before you get your speedos in a bunch boys I’m not suggesting that all destruction is bad or this is all you do. Without disintegration, we’d have a messy, cluttered world [see: you’re garbage!]. For instance: a mushroom’s job is to decompose—i.e. destroy—and I love them! So please, I don’t want a barrel of men complaining how they don’t destroy and how they create, cook and parent.

Yeah, I know! I live with a man, half of my friends are men and I have a feminist-thinking son. I’m talking innate generalities. I think humans are—as Blake said—half angels, half human. We can exercise choice. I’m all about telling my clients—both male and female—they have the power to overcome their “biology.”

But, realistically, when we say that “someone” bashed in trashcans, batted mailboxes off their posts, raped a person downtown, stole a car and lead the cops on a high speed chase, shot another outside a bar, trampled flowers, destroyed Wall Street, burned a cat, graffitied a garage, roofied someone’s drink, oil-spilled the Gulf, broke into a house, battered a child, opened fire with assault rifles in a mall or committed the bulk of violent—and otherwise—crimes, well, “they” would be mostly men.

If we don’t accurately identify the problem, we can’t fix it. If we don’t acknowledge our own inborn drives and archetypes: the hero, the trickster, the shadow, we’ll act them out.

Let’s not make this about “sides.” Be you female or male, it’s time to call a dog a dog, accurately address the issue, without blame, so we can all apply compassion and intelligent choice. Change only happens in truth.

*original art “I War the Mask” by Dario Ré