Saying Sorry Badly

This is episode two in my series about apologies. A quick re-cap from the previous episode: we’ve let one of our friends down by flaking on an event of theirs and we feel bad about it. We’re now building ourselves up to an apology. Yet it turns out there are an awful lot of different ways to say sorry and how we do it defines what sort of apologiser we are. Read on for a list of said apologisers…

The One In Denial: Many of us really don’t enjoy feeling bad and that feeling of regret we have can prove very difficult. We just want the feeling to go away and to not have to deal with it. So, we do our best to ignore the feeling and pretend it’s not there. We push it deep down into the recesses of our subconscious to let it fester with other negative feelings that live there just waiting for the day they can break free and cause chaos. However, in failing to acknowledge the feeling we will also fail to realise we’ve upset our friend (or we’ll just pretend we haven’t) and so we won’t end up apologising. Meanwhile, our friend’s feeling of sadness will never be allowed to heal and that too will fester into resentment. There’s no chance for closure and that pretty much guarantees a bigger bust up somewhere later down the line. Good luck.

The Defensive One: It’s not just that we regret what we’ve done it’s that we feel guilty about it and many of us don’t just dislike feeling guilty we actively hate it. Of course, this feeling of guilt is perfectly normal – it’s just our body/mind’s way of telling us that we haven’t behaved optimally, we’ve caused some social disruption and we need to do something about it to patch things up. But rather than see guilt as an emotional call to action we see it is a threat. And when threatened our defences go up. Yet defences are designed to protect us from stuff outside and even though this feeling is inside us we’ll look for the source of the problem external to us. What we find is our friend and when they want to breach the subject of our ‘flaking’ rather than take responsibility for our actions we project our feeling of guilt at our friend. They become the problem because they’re making us feel bad about ourselves and we lash out at them. We dredge up all those past grievances and the times they’ve let us down and hurl them at our friend just to hide our own bad behaviour. So we upset our friend and give ourselves something else to apologise for!

OK, I’ve realised the first two apologisers in my list are both examples of people who don’t say sorry, so technically they’re not actually apologisers. I’m sorry if I gave you false expectations. Actually no, I’m not, deal with it. But hopefully it’s clear that denial and defensiveness are no great paths to apology success. The next episode will focus on the infamous over-apologiser, the one who says sorry almost at the start of every sentence. In the meantime here’s Bieber having a shot at saying sorry (and getting paid millions to do so, well done him), although I’m not 100% sure he means it.

Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest/Easiest Word

Do you struggle with the S Word? Or does it come easy and you find yourself saying sorry almost every other sentence? Yup, it’s my post about the word ‘sorry’ and it’s been a long time coming. So, I’m sorry it’s late…or am I? It’s also going to be more than one post because when I started writing I realised that apologies are quite a big deal. So, I’m sorry for the length…or am I? But seriously, have you noticed how much we say sorry these days? We say sorry for being late, sorry for taking so long to text back, sorry for wanting to pass someone on the street and sorry for flaking. But what actually do we mean when we say sorry and why do we do it so much?

To avoid any confusion I’ll start with some dictionary definitions. Firstly, sorry: “feeling regret or pentinence”. And regret basically means feeling sad or bad about something and pentinence is “the action of feeling or showing sorrow and regret for having done wrong.” In other words it’s another word for apology – “a regretful acknowledgement of an offence or failure.” Boiling it all down it goes a little like this: we’ve let someone down, say we flaked on an event they’d organised, and now we feel bad about it. What normally ensues is an apology but before we move on I just want to focus on this feeling.

Not many people like to feel bad unless, of course, you’re a masochist. But that’s another blog. It’s a visceral feeling of unease that sits somewhere in our body and I think it’s composed of at least one major ingredient: guilt. We’re feeling guilty because we know we’ve let someone down. Our action (or, in the case of flaking, lack of action) has resulted in a sub-optimal state of affairs and may well have upset our friend. We’re feeling the regret and it’s not a very pleasant sensation. However, it’s what happens next, it’s what we choose to do about that feeling that is crucial and defines whether or not, when we say sorry, we actually mean it. Blog number two will take a closer look at the act of apologising and all the different types of sorry-sayers there are out there, y’know, the ones that say sorry waaay too much, the ones that don’t say it enough, the ones that get all defensive and angry, and many more. In the meantime here’s Blue and Elton John struggling with the S word.

How To Flake Well

So, you’ve been invited to more than one New Year Eve’s event and a couple of them look pretty fun. But you can’t quite decide which one to go to so you’ve said a vague yes to all of them. And as the days count down and it gets closer to 2016 so the last-minute cancellations/changes of plans/surprise illnesses start to appear as you begin flaking on the events you don’t want to go to. Yup, it’s that time of year – the festive period – when statistics reveal that flaking is at its highest.

It’s not an uncommon phenomenon – flaking. It takes many forms: not turning up at the last minute; texting half an hour before to cancel; getting a better offer and changing your plans; deciding you’re going to spend the day in bed. All of these, providing it involves reneging on a planned social event, constitute flaking. Quite a lot of people do it but they tend to do it very badly, getting caught up in webs of white lies and half-truths as they don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Unfortunately, webs of deceit can get a bit tangled and sooner or later the truth will out and not only will you have disappointed your friend by not turning up to their event but you will also have upset them by lying to their faces.

And that’s the crux – when it comes down to it, which is worse – declining an invitation or lying? The latter, of course. And herein lies the solution, herein lies the trick to successful flaking – telling the truth. Yup, it’s as simple as that, no elaborate stories about lost cardigans, surprise tickets to see Adele and long-lost lovers appearing, just plain, simple honesty. It doesn’t have to be brutal honesty – “I’d hate to go to your boring party where I’ll meet only self-righteous, pompous boring people” – it can be sugar-coated honesty instead – “Ah, that’s such a lovely invitation but no thank you.” This might appear to fly in the face of everything we’ve been taught about being ‘polite’ but I think honesty trumps politeness. People are more robust than we think and can probably handle the odd rejection better than being lied/patronised to. We all have a right to refuse an invitation after all, it might not be an actual right recognised by the UN but there’s no law saying we must go to everything we’re invited to. Sometimes staying home and watching Netflix is just more fun.

Furthermore, flaking well is very important in this day and age when people don’t have much time and are just so busy. So the trick here is to manage other people’s expectations from as early on as possible – “Oh I’m just so busy” hours before an event starts that you’ve known about for yonks doesn’t really cut it but “Gosh, I’m just so busy at the moment, I’m finding it hard to commit to things” said a suitable time before the event is better, and also lets others flag you as that overly-busy, potentially-flakey person. So good luck flakers, here’s to 2016 being a year of flaking well. Consider this fantastic video a How-To guide….

Would You Like To Flake With That?

The Urban Dictionary tells us that flaking (v.) means to bail out of something at the last-minute whilst a flake (n.) is an unreliable person; someone who agrees to do something, but never follows through. Now, I wasn’t around in olden days but I’ve got a hunch that flaking as an activity is on the rise and the number of flakes in society is increasing. This is partly due to the arbitrary increase in population size (so the number of flakes may well grow proportionately with that) but also because consumer culture encourages flaking whilst modern technology makes it far easier. So here’s a quick blog on the rise of flaking and why I certainly don’t want a flake with that.A Flake

To be happy in consumer society you’ve always got to buy the next big thing, keep on trend and own more stuff. There’s never any chance just to slow down and enjoy what you’ve got because if everyone slowed down then the economy would stop growing. This attitude of cost-benefit analysis and accumulation easily percolates into our social lives as we weigh up which event will most likely maximise our happiness. There’s so much to do so rather than commit to one thing we hold out on the off-chance something better comes up. This means we flake a lot. And it’s even easier to flake now we’ve got smartphones – all we need is a weak wifi signal to let our friend now that we’ve decided not to see them because something else has come up or, y’know, we just couldn’t be bothered. Back in the days of telephones-we-couldn’t-put-in-our-pockets flaking on an event was probably a bigger deal because more effort had to be put into arranging to meet in a certain place at a certain time, but now it just takes the silent clicks of a few touchscreen buttons.

Now, I get that in this world of shrinking economics, laptops and internet that everyone is very busy. We’re all so busy getting caught up in a flailing capitalist consumer economy but why should friendships have to suffer for that? Why pretend to commit to something that you probably won’t turn up to, why not just be honest? Of course, honesty is difficult and we fear upsetting people by telling them we’re not too fussed about hanging out with them which is why we try to smooth the situation with some half-hearted apology – “Oh I’m so sorry I didn’t make it, I’ve just been so busy and blah blah blah.”

Sometimes the apology is worse than the actual act of flaking itself because what it seems to say is this: hey, so I’m aware I flaked on you and I feel bad about it so can you stop me feeling bad by accepting this quasi-apology. But what about the person who has been flaked on, aren’t they thinking something like this: hey, so I’m actually somewhat upset that you flaked on me, it kinda suggests you didn’t give me much of a second thought, but now you want me to make you feel better by accepting your apology…well, I can’t fricking have coffee with your apology.

I think the simplest way to get around this increasing social problem is to create two different types of social event – the ‘event-event’ and the ‘flake-event’ – the former is one to which both (or all) parties are committed and will make as much of an effort as possible to attend (save ill-health, unforeseen grave circumstances etc) whilst the second is one that neither party will get too excited about because one or both may well decide to do something else or just decide to do nothing. The ‘event-event’ and ‘flake-event’ categories at least acknowledge that flaking is a common activity and helps us to cope with it better, rather than the endless half-apologies. Of course, we could just try to make more of an effort. Here’s comedian Aziz Ansari summing up flaking very nicely…