What makes a good apology

Something that very few people have mastered, including myself, is the art of a sincere apology. I remember a few years ago, I did something pretty stupid without really thinking about it – I used to have verbal diarrhea in certain situations and then have no memory and even worse – take no accountability for what I have said. This has since changed since I’ve learnt from it but at the time I did not understand what it was I had done because I had no memory of what I had said. But regardless, my inability to make a sincere apology meant that I almost lost a good friend because of it. This experience has shaped me and continues to have an impact on the way I communicate with people and play a part in their lives. I’m more mindful of how my words affect people, of how we shape each others lives with our perceptions. But it wasn’t really until a while later, when I was in a position where I wanted an apology from someone else – a sincere heartfelt apology – that I realised how hard it is to do and how I had fallen short before.

It has been a few years since both these incidents but I recently had a conversation with a friend that got me thinking about it again. It reminded me how important it is to apologise with sincerity and how much it means to the person on the receiving end when they hear that ring of truth in a good apology. There are a lot of people with strong opinions and don’t get me wrong – I think it’s good to have an opinion on something but also be willing to hear someone else’s perspective and be open to changing your mind. And most people have the ability to do this and if not, they just say I’m sorry thats just my opinion, let’s just agree to disagree.

The thing about dreams though, is that they are not a fact, they have no boundaries, and you are allowed to have them, regardless of how undesirable it may be to someone else – because guess what – it’s your dream. So when my friend called me out on a dream I had – my biggest most desperate dream in fact – and told me that there is more to life than that, I was understandably a bit upset at his tactless remarks. After suggesting that this was harsh, I was then told what is the epitome of an un-apology; ““I have a pretty strong opinion about this and it probably is hard to hear”. It’s the classic mark of an insincere apology or deflecting the onus from the person who is making the apology to the person they are apologising to – it’s saying it is your fault because you find this hard to hear and you cannot handle what I have to say.

So here you have a terrible apology. Someone who first, doesn’t say the word sorry, second, does not mean this half-hearted apology which is more for convenience than anything else, and third, makes the person they are talking to feel like it is their fault for feeling hurt. You feel what you feel guys. And you do what you have done. So man up and apologise for it. But what actually makes a good apology and how can we practice being people who are compassionate about other people’s feelings, how can we be more mindful and thoughtful? Apologising with sincerity is something that I am still learning and by no means an expert on, so here are some tips I found while scouring the internet:

  • A meaningful apology has 3 R’s; Regret, Responsibility and Remediation. There needs to be some kind of expression of regret like ‘I am so sorry, I know that I hurt you and I feel so bad about it’. You also need to take total responsibility, that means not saying I am sorry that what I said/ did made you feel hurt, but I am sorry for actually doing it because what I did was wrong and I shouldn’t have done it. And finally some offer of remediation like ‘Let me make it up to you.” Or “I know I can’t change what I did but I promise I won’t do it again.”
  • Express regret, Take responsibility, Make it up to them, express the desire to change your behaviour, and request forgiveness
  • Never say “I’m sorry…but….” The but excuses your bad behaviour with whatever actions they have done. They need to take ownership of that themselves.
  • It’s not always the right thing to do to say sorry for everything, because it loses its meaning. Someone who says sorry as an involuntary reaction to everything they do isn’t really thinking about the apology or how what they have done has really affected the other person.
  • Don’t say sorry if you don’t mean it.
  • Sometimes just saying “I’m sorry” is not enough. You need to actually show that you’re changing your behaviour and seek confirmation that your actions are providing remediation.

Apologising for something that you have done should be because you are sincerely sorry for it, because you understand the hurt and pain you have caused someone else and you want to make it up to them. An apology should not be about you getting closure from what you said or did, or about you trying to smooth ruffled feathers because its inconvenient. Apologise and mean it, from the bottom of your heart, and then try to act in ways that show you are following through on your words.

Yuppies of the Twenty-tens

american psycho meme

I live in a generation of Yuppies. They walk with a confidence born only in the lap of luxury, toilet trained with 3-ply hypoallergenic toilet paper and a golden-plated potty for all I know, and years of never wanting for anything. They worked student jobs to pass the time and buy extravagant gifts for their girl/boyfriend rather than supporting themselves. Because what else are parents for but to sponge off and stock the fridge right? Young Urban Professionals. You know the type. The upwardly mobile, affluent 20 somethings who drive around the city – strike that – hi-tail it for the tram in the mornings – because let’s face it, they’re also pretentious assholes who want to prove they’re reducing carbon emissions and lowering themselves enough to get public transport with the plebs.

I live in a generation of Yuppies and contrary to the sincere attempts I make in loving the body I live in and the life I lead, I feel embarrassed about the fact that I shop at second hand stores, when in reality, this is something that I enjoy doing and am proud of. Against the deep-seated pride that I have in my ability to support myself, to pay for my own education, travel, and the long term investment in myself, I find myself ashamed that I don’t spend as much as my peers, for the fact that I budget, and that I am judged for this.

I recently got involved in a mentoring programme for students from a regional high school, many of whom have no plans to go to university, and some who have never been to the city and seen people working in a professional environment. I find myself wondering what we can possibly offer them that will empower them to dream bigger dreams but still be relatable to their lives and families, and the more I look at the people around me the more I feel like our lives collectively are so far removed from the reality of many of these families. How do we, with our neatly tailored corporate suits, touch screen laptops and carefully manicured shellac nails (except me – I’m still an old fashioned do-it-yourself girl) – how do we say anything that can remotely relate to these students who are struggling with the idea of a sense of self, of the logistics of moving out of home and living in the city, and perhaps do not know of anyone in their family who has done so.

I live in a generation of yuppies. Over the last few months, since I moved out of home for the second time with a new awareness of the differences between me and my peers, I have noticed things I didn’t before. This heightened sense of awareness is the result of growing older partly, a slightly better grasp of self-possession (because you have to learn the rules before you break ‘em) and the time and space to observe social differences when the demands of life at its most basic level have settled.

I’ve had people ask me with slow surprise if I am financially independent from my parents. The short answer to that is yes. And then comment that they can’t possibly imagine what it would be like to be financially independent from their parents. While that is refreshingly honest, it is also shockingly ignorant. As a woman in her mid-twenties, it is somewhat expected that I would be working full-time, be flatting, or have my own place. That I’m able to pay my bills on time, cook and clean, hold down a job and possibly a relationship at the same time. It’s what most people around the world do. Would I change it? No I wouldn’t give up my independence for the world. But would it be easier to take a backseat in my own life and be financially dependent on other people – yes of course. So comments like ‘wow I can’t imagine what that [being financially independent] would be like’ only entrench my own sense of self-sufficiency and yet emphasise the disparity I feel exists between my values, beliefs, goals and stage of life and that of many of my peers. I’ve thought long and hard about it – this difference I am so aware of. And the answer is that I live in a generation of yuppies and I struggle to relate to them and they cannot possibly relate to me.

We all have different dreams and aspirations, financial commitments and goals, but there is this strange illusion that we are all the same. It was my goal to move to Australia and get a job in a Big Four or Mid-Tier company. The consequent results of that such as paying off my student loan, moving out of home, paying rent and bills etc, are part and parcel of the decision that I accepted. Luckily, I have parents who taught me to save, so working from the age of 17 and saving by habit helped me. I have trouble understanding the concept of ‘saving for something’. I am constantly asked ‘What are you saving for?’. It’s difficult to answer that I’m not really saving for anything right now but I’m saving for all the things I will no doubt want in the future so I find myself giving socially acceptable answers like ‘travelling’ and ‘buying a car’. I didn’t know I would have to pay off my student loan in 10 months time but I did, and luckily I had the money saved to do it. I don’t know what wants and needs I will face 10 months from now, but I know that if I save now, I will have the resources to do it. Frankly, I do not need to justify my decision to save money, or put away a part of each pay check.

I have lived vicariously in the past, booked international flights spontaneously after grabbing a brochure off a Flight Centre wall. There have been times when I have literally only had enough money to last me for groceries until the next payday but these were all decisions that I made and I look back and I’m glad that I booked those flights, that I travelled to those countries and had amazing experiences. But the days of booking flights on a whim are gone. For the time being. I am at a completely different life stage than I was two years ago and this is a natural part of growing up. You change, your wants and needs change. And the choices that served you well in the past, may now no longer be viable. While I understand this all too well, I have a strong suspicion that many of my peers do not. I constantly feel the need to justify my decision to not go out for dinner or a show – yes it is $25 I know but is it worth going into my savings for it and losing my bonus interest (this is then followed by a conversation trying to explain how bonus interest works on a savings account).

I’m 25 years old and I have never bought anything from a vending machine. I do not eat out unless I’m eating out with other people, as a social thing (unless I’m travelling of course). I never get takeaways and I try my best to avoid buying water (water should be free if you can drink it out of a tap wtf!?). I love finding bargains and buying clothes from second hand markets and vintage stores. I cook all my meals and usually take lunch to work most days, unless there is a group lunch I’m going to. I do not own any shoes over $50 or clothes over $100. I am often faced with a mixture of thinly veiled derision and pity that I bring lunch from home more often than not. I don’t know why because I have always done it, and I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything. Unless you have ever been broke, or known what it is like to struggle to find work, watched your parents move countries and struggle to find jobs to support their children, you will not understand the hesitation to spend money on something that you do not need.

These are all decisions I’ve made for myself that work for me, and that I’m proud of. I do not flaunt these choices because they are mine, it has nothing to do with anyone else. It is each individual’s right to exercise these choices. However, questioning my choices and assuming that I’m cheap because I choose not to go out for dinner because it’s not within my budget, or because I choose to shop at second-hand stores or my decision to take a packed lunch to work, only illustrates your inability to understand that every individual has different financial commitments and goals for the future. While I do not expect an explanation for other people’s decisions to spend most of their salary drinking, eating out, and buying luxury clothes and perfumes, I do not expect to have to give an explanation for my decision to pay for my own travel, education, to go to plays and musicals, to save for the future, and live within my means.

When I, a woman in my mid-twenties, find myself having to justify my financial choices and goals, then how are we, as adults who cannot grasp the idea that people are not the same, that we all have the right to make different choices, that not everyone is born in a lap of luxury – how are we to relate in any way to children who have grown up in a low socio-economic background, who believe their fate is to leave school and go into trade jobs, who work part-time jobs to help their parents support younger brothers and sisters. I do not come from an affluent background. I’ve been brought up with the ideals of working hard for the things I want, to live within my means, save for my future and to provide a good education and stable life for my children when I do have them. The choices I make are influenced by the childhood I’ve had, by the fact that I am a child of immigrant parents, by my own experiences with living out of home and my readiness for stability and space to put down some roots. I hope that in time, the affluent youth, the ones that clearly have no need to save as they look out at the view from their parent-funded Southbank apartments, are able to recognise that not everyone is the same, and not everyone has had the luxuries that they take for granted.

I recently heard Kyle Vander Kyup speak at a National reconciliation week event and I was inspired by his story of growing up black in a white family, trying to be proud of his culture and ignore the taunts of children at school. It’s a story I’m familiar with, moving to a western country at the age of eight and feeling like I looked different, talked different and definitely was seen as ‘other’. But the strength of his adopted mother in seeking funding and support for her athlete son in particular is what moved me. I guess the disparity that exists between people is two-fold, three-fold. It’s that of money and status, it’s a disparity in race and socio-economic groups, it’s a disparity that exists between normative expressions of sexuality and those that lie in the parameters. What I’m trying to say, in a roundabout way, is that there are many differences between people, and affluence is just one of them. However there is an intersection of wealth, race, and ‘normative-ness’ that is by far the most ethnocentric group of them all and it’s important that this group recognise the differences in each of us as individuals, in our goals and aspirations and the decisions that we make because of it.

Is ’planning’ nature or nurture?

I’ve often been told that I plan too much and while this might be true, I think that what non-planners often don’t realise is that we, those who love to plan, to tick off checklists, to diarise and schedule – we get as much satisfaction out of our planning as we do the activity. It’s almost unfair that we get to live through something more than once, simply by virtue of the time and effort we spent planning it. And if you’re like me and you document every event in your life whether privately or on a public forum, you know you can always go back to it and it will bring back all the memories of what once was. I like to think of planning as ‘Take 0’. It’s the time you allow yourself to go through the holiday/ interview/ speech/ grocery shopping in your head and do it once before you actually do it. It could be as simple as writing down your grocery list before you go to the supermarket, it could be as detailed as planning a function with the performances, speeches and menu timed to the minute.

It’s almost like an athlete visualising stepping up to his mark, the roar of the crowd, the blowing of the whistle, and his feet pounding on that track, before he even steps into the stadium. Planning is not just a safety net though, there is a satisfaction you gain at your own skill and capability in what you forsee as a great performance, or a gold medal at the end of the finish line – before you’ve even run the race. You allow yourself a little bit of self-congratulation even as you plan, before the act has begun. Its positive reinforcement, its self-motivation, its giving yourself a little pat on the back as you look at that list with everything ticked off. What could possibly be wrong with that?

There are times when you can plan too much however. And I think this is what most people are getting at. I plan a lot, but I often change these plans as I go when I realise that what I planned may not have been feasible, or if better opportunities come up, or I meet people along the way who give me better advice. For example, on my first time travelling alone I had planned my time in Bangkok in great detail, but finding myself confronted with language barriers and the cultural scepticism facing women travelling alone in an Asian country, I decided to abandon well-laid plans of taking local buses and stuck to the MRT and BRT trains which had clear routes and maps, taking tuk tuks to places were further away. I grew tired of temples and decided to get massages instead. I found that I fell in love with markets so I spent my time searching for unique local markets and trying to fresh fruit there rather than going to a historic house I had planned to go to. Plans change all the time and that is what is great about them. They are prospective – they haven’t happened yet. The great thing about a plan is that even if things change, you can still feel proud of a great plan.

But what makes some of us feel the need to plan and others travel more spontaneously, not knowing where they might spend the night or which city they will be in the day after? All along I thought I was a planner because I’ve watched my dad plan holidays in great detail, and my mum label and categorise boxes in our house with lists and cross-checking items. Yet after my trip to the States, I realised that I am actually the biggest planner in my house. I’m the kid with the five-year plan and the ten year plan, the 25 going on 40 year old who researches superannuation schemes and books car rentals 5 months in advance. While I left most of the cities on my trip as mostly unplanned with a rough idea of the things I wanted to do there, I planned my time in New York in great detail. I could easily live in New York for a month and still not do everything I wanted to do. You can imagine how hard it was for me to cram a lifetime of New York living in 7 days.

I started off with a 23 hour day (which is far too easy to do in New York), ended up getting sick and crashing after 6 weeks of non-stop travel and found that my body was not as superhuman as I’d planned for it to be. Evidently after six weeks of sleeping in a different city every night, eating out everyday and drinking almost as often, it had decided it was time to call it quits. Imagine my disappointment when I had created detailed hour by hour plans of all the things I wanted to do in New York, with my 7 day New York pass and annotated map of the city. Now, if I was a non-planner, this would have me unphased. Sure I would’ve been annoyed, but I probably wouldn’t know what I was missing out on. Being the planner that I am, I had already lived my week in New York in my head. I already had vivid ideas of what I would be doing, the places I would see and the experiences I would have. And then I realised another important fact; when your plans are altered, it is only good if the change is better than your plan. If it is worse, you are better off never having planned at all. Sour grapes huh.

When I realised this I decided to do some research to get an understanding of why I love to plan – need to plan almost, and many other people don’t. I realised that this was harder to decipher than I thought it would be (a simple google search didn’t come up with anything much). I found articles on things like ‘Why successful people plan’ and ‘Announcing your plans makes you less motivated to accomplish them’, but nothing on why people in general are more likely to plan and others more likely to lurch into the unknown with no plans whatsoever. So I decided to come up with my own list, based on myself, that could be universal – or not.

• I am the eldest child – being the first child in a family makes you naturally take responsibility, you suddenly have someone younger than you to boss over, to take care off, to be a role model for. Even with a year and a half year difference, I enjoyed my position of being the older one and lorded it over my brother, ‘teaching him’ how to cut his own birthday cake, and beating up anyone who bullied him at school. Being the eldest, prepared me to have to think for others, to protect, to watch over – and ultimately – to plan.
• That protection thing is quite a powerful element. I believe we all have a tendancy towards fight or flight whether we have realised this or not. And it depends on what the situation is. If my brother or children were threatened, I would fight. I am the snarling cat with lips curled back and bared teeth, the fierce mama bear if those I love who are weak and defenceless (bebitos) are threatened – or in the case of my brother – someone who I have spent my whole life watching over by habit. This need to protect – this fear for the lives of others or need to watch over – makes us plan subconsciously. We are always alert for what could happen, even on a less life threatening level. It’s probably what drives us to book flights and accommodation months before our holiday or look up menus to a restaurant before we go to dinner. It’s what prompts us to plan our career, map out a route and check bus timetables, and look up a movie on IMDB before we download it.
• The habits of our parents – I’ve touched on this already but I’ve seen my parents plan my whole life so naturally, I have been raised to plan ahead.
• Culture, and cultural difference from the society you are surrounded in. Being of ethnic background, in a predominantly Western society, I find that the way I was raised is so different from many of my peers that as I grow older, I almost exaggerate some of these habits that have served me well, as a defence mechanism. For example, I compare prices of a general list of food items across three supermarkets and take photos of the prices of groceries at cheap Asian stores so that I will remember to go back there for it when I need it. Having been broke in the past, being financially independent, and watching my parents struggle as new immigrants as a child, are all factors that have ingrained a deep sense of caution in me. I’m the 25 year old that categorises her expenses and actually checks them back against the budget. It’s not to say I don’t buy the spontaneous plan ticket when there’s a sale on and plan a holiday around it. But even that involves a plan.
• The type of family we are in. By this I mean a nuclear family, or a single-parent household, a home with many half siblings and step siblings, only child house, etc. I come from a nuclear family and I have a younger brother. The fact that I have seen my parents plan together financially, discuss bills and support each other, facilitates the idea that planning around money is something that families do together. The fact that I have a younger brother as opposed to sister, means that I would naturally plan for both of us. Not to be sexist, but I have noticed with my experience of boys by and large that they are terrible at planning. Notice how most PA’s are women for example. It’s a fact you can see in the workforce all the time. Women are just better at synchronising schedules, planning events, and organising people.
• What people expect from you. When push comes to shove, most people will step up to the plate. People do what they never thought they could do all the time. We are constantly surprising ourselves because we have very little faith in ourselves. That’s why its so helpful having people around us who think we can achieve more than we believe possible, because more often than not we will step up to the mark because we don’t want to fail them, and in the process surprise ourselves as well. But what about planners? I strongly believe that often people who are able to plan may not really want to, but they do it because no one else will. Think about a group of friends planning a holiday together. Who is the person who finally does the lions share of the planning? And does that person really want to or is it just because everyone else is too lazy.

I’m sure there are lots of other factors but these are just a few I can think of at the top of my head. After a long 25 years of living *chuckle chuckle* I think I’m well and truly sick of planning. I’ve done a lot of it over the last few years and now that my career has begun and my life is relatively stable, I would like to take a backseat, and let life unroll. Unfortunately, after establishing myself as a capable planner, this is harder to do than I thought it would be. When you have to plan your own birthday because your friends are too lazy and well, you always plan everything for them – you know that it’s time you hang up your hat and call it a day. Right now, I would like nothing better than for someone else to plan a weekend for me and organise everything – the bookings, the activities, everything. And all I’d have to do is just show up, not a plan in mind.