You live long enough and you eventually learn the importance of integrity in people. At the same time, you also learn that people are far from perfect and that many, many times they tend to make mistakes. The concept of flawed human beings came late in my teens when I realized how “broken” my parents were. Reality sucks, but at least it’s real. Right, Neo?
I’ve always been very hot and cold in regards to handling mistakes, though. Pure binary: ones and zeroes. This drives my wife nuts sometimes. If she and I are arguing about something and I realize she has hit a point I haven’t thought of, I ponder it and respond short, succinctly, and in all earnestness:
“You’re right, I’m wrong. I’m sorry.”
When you’re in the heat of a good argument, hearing that phrase can be frustrating… especially when you’re on a roll in a solid discussion and your brain is in high gear. “But I’m not done!” she’d say to me.
I’d just look at her and smile. “There’s nothing else to argue. You’re right. I was wrong. And I’m sorry. I apologize.”
How do you fight that? Being able to just realize that sometimes you make mistakes is great; being able to act on it correctly is even better. The simplicity of “I’m sorry” has always gone a long way with me. In similar arguments, people have done the same with me and I immediately move on.
“Is anyone bleeding? Is anyone dead,” my dad used to say. “If not, it can be fixed.” I’ve said I’m sorry hundreds (thousands?) of time in my life and I’ll do it even more. It comes easy to me when deserved and I love bragging about my ability to do so easily and with sincerity.
I was reminded the power of “I’m sorry” in the past couple of days while working on Florida Anime Experience related stuff. Convention folk are an interested breed, and like all humans, many of them handle things poorly. I realized, though, that not all groups I remember being a pain in the ass are a “group” pain in the ass; just the individuals in it. That said, the opposite applies too: some groups ARE a pain in the ass.
So I started to think about “I’m sorry” opportunities that have yet to happen and (in many cases) will never happen. With some of these, though, I have hope.
- In 2006, a group left a close friend of mine and a convention hanging by dropping out of an agreement at the last moment (literally, mere hours before) because they decided to be assholes. My team picked up the slack from that situation, but the ringleader and his tinfoil hat never apologized to my friend.
- In the late 2000s, a number of folks on the Internet were pretty rude to myself and my friends as we were working to create a better atmosphere for fandom in Central Florida. Most of those folks have disappeared into obscurity (as predicted). The few that are still around are still around… and I haven’t forgotten their actions.
- My sister ditched my wedding in 2007. Since then, I was asked by others around her how she could made amends and I’ve said the same thing for seven years: show up at my front door, apologize to my wife, and bring a wedding gift. (We need a new smaller George Foreman if she’s reading this.) For seven years, though, she has been too busy to do anything – and I have only spoken to her when I needed to: during the aftermath of my father’s suicide. Even then, she never said “I’m sorry”.
- In the late 2000s, a convention promotor and I got into a heated discussion about the saturation of conventions in South Florida. Arguments happen in business and fandom, and I’ve never let that effect me when it comes to personal interactions. At the end of the argument, I extended my hand and said “It is what it is, and we’ll just agree to disagree.” He looked at my hand and refused to be professional and shake it. “I’m not going to shake your hand.” Professional decorum out the window, I now saw what sort of person he truly was and let him know. I’ve had to interact with him on a number of occasions since then, but I’ve never forgotten and have never respected that man since that day.
- Last year I gave a guy an opportunity to help with one of our conventions due to the amazing talent of a person close to him who was already helping us. On Sunday of the show, he decided that Tom Croom was a meanie because (in his limited view) he thought he was being gipped out of what he felt he was due during the show. He walked off from his post (he was watching a door) and left the other five folks on his team shorthanded. Even better? We had been trying to get him what he wanted all weekend and had literally just set up getting him his coveted need… but he bailed right before getting it. I emailed him after to let him know how disrespectful and unprofessional he was. It was a shame, too, because the person who got him involved is amazingly talented and lost out on a great opportunity over the whole thing – and I hate seeing talent miss opportunity.
- Recently a friend of mine decided it was acceptable to lash out at me (by proxy for his frustration at someone else) and call me a “piece of shit” – and not in the “we’re play fighting” way. We’ve had a mutual respect for each other for some time, but it’s amazing how quickly respect falters when you treat a friend that way. He still hasn’t said he’s sorry.
I’m sure I’m forgetting others, but those are the most noteworthy things I remember. “I’m sorry” goes a long way in so many cases, but not everyone sees things the same way and not everyone can always get to the point of conveying the apologetic concept correctly.
NOW: there ARE some cases where even “I’m sorry” doesn’t make everything better. To quote one of the Joey Snackpants-isms:
Saying “I’m sorry” is very nice, and extremely considerate, but it does not in any circumstance make it immediately ‘all right’.
I like to believe that those exceptions, though, are few and far in-between.
So it goes, Mr. Vonnegut. So it goes…