How to Apologize

From Harvey Weinstein to David Cross, it seems like fully grown adults are having a lot of trouble with making sincere and appropriate apologies lately. Luckily, I used to be a nanny, so I have a lot of experience teaching this skill to literal grade school children. They all seemed pretty capable of understanding the concept! Let me break it down for you:

1. Someone has accused you of something. Your ego is not going to want to listen. It would like to protect you from ever acknowledging that you have done a wrong or bad thing. Set your ego aside, though, and listen.

But they’re being mean/not giving me the benefit of the doubt!

Look, I will give you this: it is extremely uncomfortable to be accused of hurting someone, especially if you like to think of yourself as being pretty woke/socially conscious. But friend, yours are not the most important feelings in this situation. Someone is telling you about something that you did that hurt them, and you’ve gotta listen to them. Sit with their words. Let them tell you how you made them feel. That’s your job right now.

But they are saying I said something that I didn’t say! Or: they are interpreting my words in a way I didn’t mean them!

Here’s the deal: sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, fatphobia, ableism (the list goes on) – these are all baked into our language and our culture. We all are operating with some degree of internalized bias, and something that meant nothing to you might weigh much more heavily on someone with less privilege than yourself. If you are operating from a position of privilege, you have the luxury of not looking too closely at your language. It may be easy for you to say something hurtful and not think twice about it. To the person you’re speaking to though, words can leave a lasting impact. If someone with experience different than your own is telling you that you said or did something offensive, it’s usually best to trust them!

Being accused of saying something offensive can feel really painful, but I guarantee you, it’s not as painful as being the target of language or behavior that belittles you and reminds you that you are not widely valued or respected in our society. Take your accuser at their word.

2. Have you gotten all your feelings sorted out? Have you listened thoroughly to the person accusing you? Good. Now it’s time to do some homework. Do some googling. Look into the offensive language you used, or the offensive action you took. Why is it offensive? How do you think it felt to be on the receiving end of it? What could you say or do next time, in a similar situation, that would be better?

3. Now it’s time to write your apology. I’ll give you a template and everything:

I, [YOUR NAME], am truly sorry for what I did. My actions were indefensible. What I did was hurtful because [ENTER REASONS]. I deeply regret the pain that I caused [VICTIM’S NAME]. In the future I will do [X, Y, AND Z ACTIONS] to make sure I never do something like this again. Thank you for reading.

See? That wasn’t too hard, was it?