This is a philosophical statement, intended to spark thinking and examining.
When he was at officer candidate school, that people were being sort of brought up before a committee for things they’d done, little infractions and things and he said standing there he was waiting in line listening to everyone plead their case and he said there was a certain sameness that started to occur and he felt like everyone said “Yes, officer so and so, I did this, and this is why” or “I did this, but” and I think everyone, most people know what it’s like to be, when someone apologizes to you and they say “I’m so sorry I eviscerated you but..” and sort of immediately, it doesn’t mean anything you know.
And he said he got up there and he realized that it immediately weakened them, and when the officer said “you did thus and so” and whatever it was, and he said, “Yes sir.”
And the officer said, “Do you have anything to add?” and he said “No sir.”
And everyone was completely silent, he said the officers were looking around, and he said they looked at him and said, “Private?” and he said “I’m 100% responsible it will never happen again.”
And he said at that moment he felt he actually had the power in the room, and he felt he’d earned the power by taking the power back to himself and taking on the responsibility, and he taught that kind of accountability.
And he lived that. He could apologize and mean it.
— Marie Louise Parker
I heard this on City Arts and Lectures this past weekend and it has stuck with me. I really like that little story. It’s a simple affair, yet such a strong example and a wonderful reminder of the power, in the many meanings of that word, of being responsible. A reminder of the power we give ourselves when we take responsibility and ownership. A reminder that when we blame or excuse, it’s not as useful, and not even as instructive*, as we think it is. We are authoring our agency.
I also find it a nice continuation on the meditations on apologies and apologizing. There is honour gained in taking ownership, and that honour and trust allows for greater intimacy and connection between people. “He could apologize and mean it,” leads to issues being taken care of and completed resolutely, not left to fester, not left to worm its way to creating unease and undermine relationships.
Nicely, it also reminds me of this other quote from City Arts and Lectures a couple of years ago. They dovetail nicely. Living this way isn’t necessarily easy to do, and if we’ve never gotten the experience of the power it creates then it’s hard to take the plunge. But stories like this give us windows into that experience, windows into the knowing that hey, this does work, and has worked for others, and produces, ultimately, grand outcomes. Even if it is uncomfortable as heck.
Thank you Marie Louise Parker for sharing the story of your father. We all can use a little support to nudge us towards whom we want to be, and your story did just that.
*Seriously, it’s amazing how immediately tempting it is to give an explanation, isn’t it?!!? We think, or at least we cloak it in, that by “understanding” what we did, through explanation, it will help us avoid it in the future. But all we can do is report on our thought process, and rarely do we see the actual impetus for it all. Worse, in terms of the apology, it is 100% counterproductive. The person doesn’t care why, the person cares that we care. It adds nothing to the apology. There IS totally a use in examining the incident, with real thinking, to unravel and transform things. Just not in the moment of the apology. We can do it later, after we’ve taken care of the actual apology.