Apologies blog

I’m sorry but… I just want to apologise if I… Is that okay? It’s absolutely no problem if not… No, what I meant was…

What did I mean? 9 times out of 10 it was exactly what I said. The other 1 being when I have been genuinely and honestly misunderstood. I have been purposefully misunderstood too, that happens to too many of us, usually during altercations when our adversary is looking to win an argument at any cost and twists your point in order to do so.

I have been needlessly apologising for years. It has become a running joke with my best friend, who is now used to the call after our meetings when I am ringing to check I wasn’t annoying or unreasonable, or worst of all, boring. This has happened so often now that he laughs at me and then assures me that all is well and that what we had was a great conversation and a fun time. This sounds like the paranoia of a drinker, and yes, there have been many times in my adult life when I have woken hung-over and horrified, only to find out that my companions have been just as drunk as me and are just as apologetic. The fact is that usually, the night went swimmingly and we’re all a little shaky, hazy and uneasy the next morning with no good reason.

I’m not talking about the Sunday morning hangover, I am talking about a culture of apology prevalent in women, or so I have found. I’m talking about the meetings, the rehearsals, the classes where we start every sentence with ‘I’m sorry, but…’

What are we sorry for and where did our incessant need for disclaimers come from? I have come to prefer being accepted to being heard, and rank being liked over being honest. I used to apologise to men, now I apologise to everyone. I watched it happen with my sister last weekend, and that’s what prompted me to write this blog. We met with a friend in a pub on Saturday night. My friend is devising a play about mental health; my sister is a qualified therapist. My sister spoke for a while about her expertise and her input was helpful to my friend. After she’d finished a very interesting and provoking conversation, she immediately apologised for having spoken. Her words were ‘sorry for going on at you’. I wondered why. She had been interesting, insightful and wholly engaging. She held our attention and interest absolutely and yet still felt the need to apologise for holding the floor even though we had given it to her and asked for her input. Then I saw through my sister that I have been doing the same. Someone asks me my opinion, I give it, and then I apologise. Why?

I am very tired; I have busy schedule and some personal worries. I’m tired; but most of all, I am tired of apologising. I think my friends are tired of me apologising, too. I have apologised to the very people who are hurting me. That’s nuts.

This new wave of the apology, the disclaimer has actually been around for a while. I see it in my rehearsal room. I am learning about collaborative practice and devising as part of my masters and all the students have been placed into groups not of our choosing and therefore out of our control. There are thirty of us overall in our year group, and whenever you get thirty people there are bound to be some that you don’t gel with. I have somehow come up trumps. I like all the people in my group. We get along, we like each other and we have a laugh. The work is full of ideas and enthusiasm and we consider each other. We are also all very apologetic. We put an idea forward only with an option to dismiss it. We are all saying ‘I think this, but it doesn’t matter if not.’ It has become a recognisable issue so much so that my Royal Central performance company have included it in our manifesto: ‘we are unapologetic, and make unapologetic work’.

I have realised that while the openness to apology is lovely and admirable in a person, it is not necessarily conducive to good work in a collaborative project. Our trouble is that our group of five has now reached an apology stalemate- we regard all of the ideas, but yet have nothing to actually show. Who will step up and be the ‘baddie’? (The ‘baddie’ being the first person who puts an idea across without a disclaimer.) Do men have this problem? Assertive women are bossy, assertive men are, well just assertive. That’s not fair. I am assertive and I am bossy, but not always at the same time. I realise the difference between the two. I spent two and a half years as the only woman in a creative supervisory team. When my male colleagues fell out, they did it with gusto. They went head to head and said exactly what they thought. They then sorted the argument out with ‘sorry mate’, ‘alright, mate’. And that was it. The art of apologising is ours, ladies, it seems. And it is an art. We waver on the outside for a bit, test the water, say a few non-committal nice things and then eventually, we’re back on track after a teary hug. Who’s more advanced; the men who say ‘mate’ or the women who talk it out? I’m honestly at a loss here. I am owed a few apologies; am I expecting them to come? Of course not. The habitual apologiser never expects or demands an apology, even when it is owed.

On the flip side, Quincey at the London Dungeon has come up with a genius idea for tackling problems within his company. Quincey and his team run a company of 49 actors and the flow of grievances through their office is un-ending (because of the amount of staff, not the amount of grievances-disclaimer!) I know from experience that the will to apologise is equalled only by the will to complain. As soon as one person complains, they open the floodgates for everyone else to follow suit. Moaning is so very therapeutic, especially when one can hide their complaint within the en -masse. Quincey will only accept complaints if they are accompanied by a recommendation. In other words, don’t just give me a problem; tell me how you think it should be dealt with. This means that everyone considers the lot of the person they are complaining to, and learns that problems within a company are not just fed into some magical computer; they need the complainer’s insight into how the problem can be rectified. Complaints with a recommendation are the best way forward. (I feel the need to add ‘or not’, but I won’t apologise.) This means that when a complaint is made, there is no requirement of an apology, as the complainer is already required to make a suggestion of a solution. In this way, issues move forward far more swiftly.

Can we do this in our personal lives? Can we put forward a grievance with a recommendation of how the person who has hurt us can rectify it? I guess you’d call that an argument, but arguments are terribly messy and this is just one idea for how they could be tidied up.
My previous blog dealt with women feeling the need to ditch their femininity in order to be successful; now I’m wondering why we apologise. This is not necessarily a female problem; I have male friends who apologise too much, too. It does still seem to be a predominantly female tradition, however, and we need to realise and quash it. I asked my sister for honest feedback on my previous blog. She was very positive but said it seemed like I was trying too hard, I’m sorry but I’m new to this. I’m sorry.

My mother apologised to my father in order to keep the peace (my father was a wonderful, demanding, brilliant, unreasonable man. My mother is a wonderful, demanding, brilliant, unreasonable woman, but I don’t remember him apologising to her), I know far too many people who apologise needlessly and I join them, I am truly, very sorry. I know certain things about myself. The older I get, the more I demand of myself and therefore take on more challenges. I am currently wrestling with one of the most challenging adventures of my life. The older I get, however, and the more challenges I take on reduces my self-confidence, therefore I apologise. I am currently deeply outside of my comfort zone, and struggling every day to be a good student, a good teacher and good friend, daughter and sister. I must force myself to realise that while I may be struggling, it’s in a very tough game, and (as I said to one of my tutors the other day: ‘I don’t know what I’m doing, but I am here.’ She reassured me that that’s all that anyone is asking of me; that I be present and open, and-get this- unapologetic.) I should maybe give myself a break.

I can’t stop my apologising habit overnight. I will keep working on it. I don’t know what I am doing, but I am here, and I got here on my own merit and hard work, I must remember that. I will keep going, and I’m going to try to stop apologising for it.

Jade Allen 2014