As I was scrolling through my Facebook feed this week, a story caught my eye. I don’t watch TV and I have no idea who the people involved in this story are, but this isn’t really about them. A woman named Giuliana Rancic, who appears on a show called “Fashion Police” made some derogatory comments about an actresses’ natural dreadlocks at the Oscars. The actress, Zendaya Coleman, responded by eloquently explaining why she felt that natural black hair should be celebrated and not criticized, which prompted Giuliana to issue a heartfelt and authentic apology (the apology was accepted). Now, I’m not going to get into the merits of whether or not the comments were actually racist (this is a matter of perception and you’ll have to make up your own mind on that one). But the article I read did get me thinking about apologies.
If we are responsible for everything in our reality, and if other people are equally responsible for their experiences, then can we ever really diminish anyone? And if we can’t, is there ever really a need to apologize? After all, if they attracted the offense into their reality, it’s not really our responsibility or fault, is it? What, exactly is an apology, anyway? Why does it sometimes feel good to say that you’re sorry, but at other times feel like the hardest thing in the world?
As I pondered this issue, I realized that the answer isn’t really that simple. Of course, we can’t truly “hurt” anyone, because yes, they really do attract everything into their reality. But there is a case to be made for the value of apologizing, if, and I can’t stress this enough, it’s done the right way.
What being offended really means
I love stories like this, not because I love gossip, but because publicized drama always gets a whole lot of people riled up. An event like this has the ability to mirror back the vibrations of not just the participating individuals (the presenter and the actress), but anyone who hears about it, as well. Facebook and Twitter were awash with outcries, opinions and lots and lots of judgment. Boy, did people get offended! But what exactly happens when we get offended?
This is a point that a lot of LOA students take issue with, because it can sound like we’re advocating for the idea that everyone can just step on each other’s toes without remorse. But please bear with me, because that’s not what I’m saying at all.
When someone gets offended, they are having an emotional response. They feel diminished in some way. They feel that the other person, by holding the opinion that they do, is taking power away from them. But they can’t. No one can take your power; you can only give it away. So, if someone triggers you, what they are doing is mirroring back your own powerlessness, which is already there to begin with. They are reflecting how you already feel, but they are not the cause of it. When we take full responsibility for our vibrations, we can recognize that any offense we feel is really our shit; it’s a response to a belief we hold that states that we are diminished in some way. If such a belief is not present, no offense will be taken. In other words, if I’ve offended you, it’s only because you asked to be offended. You attracted it into your reality. This lets me off the hook, right? I can just go about my day without ever giving you and your offendedness another thought… Well, yes and no. It depends. Like I said, this is not actually a simple issue.
You see, if I have offended you, even though your emotional response was about your belief system, I still took part in that event. I had an experience, too. And that experience is about my shit. More on that in a bit.
What we think an apology is
When we demand an apology from others, what we are almost always saying is this: “You have hurt me and you have to acknowledge that you were wrong and I was right. And until you offer this apology, until you take full responsibility for my emotional response, I will feel bad. I will continue to blame how I feel on you.” There are some inherent flaws in this view.
First, making others responsible for how we feel never works. As I said, our emotions are about us not them, so if we continue to need them to do something so we can feel better, we will never feel better. We can’t control what others do or say, no matter how hard we try. And since others are only ever reflecting our energy back to us, trying to change them in order to change ourselves is like yelling at the mirror to smile already so you can be happy. It simply doesn’t work that way.
The second issue with needing others to apologize to us is that this perspective is all about someone being right and someone being wrong. Of course, you have a right to be offended. You have a right to feel any way you do, and in fact, it’s incredibly important that you acknowledge that in order to continue to evolve. Your emotions are a feedback mechanism, and it’s important not to invalidate that feedback by avoiding or dismissing those feelings as “wrong”. Your point of view is totally valid. But so is the other person’s. They are not wrong to feel the way they do, either. And you don’t need to agree with each other to both be right. This can be very hard to hear when someone has just said or done something truly ugly, like made a really racist or horrifically mean remark. But it’s always true. Everyone’s perspective is valid, even if it’s not pretty, and even if it’s painful.
This is why people often react so defensively when we ask them to apologize. We are asking them to agree that they are wrong, that they have made a mistake, and often, that they ARE bad in some way. No one is ever going to feel good doing that, nor should they. So again, am I saying that we should never apologize? Nope. We just have to define what an apology actually is.
It’s all about boundaries
When we take the ego and its need to be right out of the equation, when we allow ourselves to take responsibility for our own emotional response, and when we no longer need the other person to do anything in order for us to feel better (when we take back our power), we can view the whole offense/offended game in a new light. After all, even if it’s not your “fault” that you offended someone, even if you were not “wrong” to do so, you still participated in that event. And that’s what you’ll want to focus on.
To me, this all comes down to boundaries. If you have overstepped my boundary, it’s my responsibility to tell you that it’s there. After all, if you have no idea that I don’t like something, how can you honor it? A lot of people think that others should just know where the boundaries are, that this is just common sense. But that perspective leads to a lot of stepping on toes. Don’t draw an imaginary line in the sand and hope that others see it. Put a big freaking sign up and make it clear where you stand, so others have a chance to respect you. In fact, if you don’t set boundaries, if you don’t define them and aren’t prepared to defend them, the Universe will send you all kinds of people to stomp on your toes until you do.
So, let’s say that you’ve overstepped one of my boundaries and I let you know – kindly (because you didn’t do it on purpose. You didn’t even know the line was there). In that case you, who are not being triggered in this case, might respond with “Oops, sorry! I didn’t know that bothered you. Of course, I’ll respect your boundary from now on.” If you then overstep that boundary again, it’s up to me to enforce it and make a decision. Perhaps you forgot, in which case I can remind you. Perhaps you had some other reason for not respecting my boundary, such as that you’re not actually comfortable with it, or that you were lashing out from your own place of pain. In any case, I’ll have to make the decision of whether or not to keep engaging with you.
Now, if I’ve been the one to overstep a boundary, I’ll first ask myself, “Why did I overstep that boundary?” Did I even know it was there? If not, then I do now. If it’s a boundary I’m comfortable with, I’ll pledge to honor that boundary from then on. In that case, an “Oops, I’m sorry” apology serves as a way to demonstrate my willingness to comply with that person’s wishes. If it’s a boundary I’m not comfortable with, aka “I need you to let me manipulate you into doing what I want so I can feel better”, I walk away. In other words, if their boundary conflicts with my boundary, my boundary is more important to me. But in that case, the relationship is pretty much over. Neither party is wrong to set the rules of engagement for themselves. You get to set the rules of your playground and so do they. But neither of you has to visit the other’s playground, if you don’t agree to those rules.
Now, let’s say that you’ve crossed a boundary that you did know was there, at least to some extent. Perhaps you made an off-color or bitchy remark. Perhaps you were critical or judgmental. In the case of the fashion presenter, Ms. Rancic criticized an actress’ hair in a way that could be construed as racist. From what I understand, the entire show is based on making fun of other people’s looks and fashion choices, so even though it may seem, to some, that the boundary should’ve been clear, I don’t think it was. After all, if it’s ok to put others down to some degree, who’s to say what degree, exactly is acceptable? I think the actress responded brilliantly by checking her own emotions and then simply setting a boundary. She responded authentically. She did not demand an apology or cry out that she’d been damaged. She did not make the presenter responsible for everything that was bad in her world. Which is precisely how she opened herself up to manifesting a good feeling outcome.
Ms. Rancic took the opportunity to take a look at why she made those remarks. She acknowledged that she had crossed a line, and pledged not to do it again. Now, while her response also included a lot of self-blame, which no doubt pleased the masses who wanted to make her “wrong”, it didn’t need to. Her response was authentic and real. I believe her when she says that she’ll be more careful in the future, and I have no doubt that this entire experience has changed how she reacts to a variety of situations.
Even if Ms. Rancic did know that her remarks would cross the line (and it’s clear that she did not know that in the moment she said it, at least not consciously), she still wouldn’t be “wrong”. That’s too simplistic. You have to go deeper. If you’ve said or done something to offend someone, if you’ve crossed a boundary that you knew or could’ve known was there, you had a reason to do so. And that reason was valid to you, given your belief system. Let me explain:
The right kind of apology
No one ever does anything without a reason. That reason may not be consciously apparent to them, but trust me, they always have one, and it’s never to hurt others. This is an important point – none of us actually want to hurt anyone. We don’t like being the source of a trigger for someone else. If you lash out at someone, it was only ever because you were, in that moment, in some kind of pain. You were trying to find relief. A lot of people in our society are still coming from a vibration where it feels good to put others down, because the only alternative they think they have to put themselves down instead. So, if it’s between bagging on themselves and bagging on others, they make the better feeling choice. But putting others down doesn’t feel good for long, and so, we’ll always begin to manifest opportunities to choose an even better feeling path. Those opportunities are brought to us via others that trigger us into a not-so-good feeling reaction. In other words, we are vibrationally provoked into lashing out. When we do, we have the chance to notice how that feels and make adjustments.
Most people, when they realize that they’ve said something hurtful or ugly, will begin to beat up on themselves. This is where underlying beliefs of unworthiness and inherent badness (supported by such notions as Original Sin) come up. “I said this horrible thing because I’m a bad person”, they’ll think, for example. But that’s never the case. We say things we don’t really mean in order to get relief. The key is to become conscious of the fact that we did this and WHY, so we can shift the underlying cause. This is why demanding apologies from people doesn’t work (also, you can’t change how you feel by controlling others). The traditional apology is all about blame, but as I already explained, no one likes to feel that they were wrong, because really, they weren’t.
It’s not “wrong” to lash out, but it is unwanted. It doesn’t ultimately feel good (it can feel good for a while if you’re coming from a lower vibration, but again, it doesn’t last. We have to keep evolving). When we do realize that we’ve sought relief in this fashion, however, we can then look for other, more constructive ways to achieve that result. We can stop making fun of others in order to cover up our own insecurities and begin to work on feeling more secure, instead. We can stop manipulating others into giving us what we want because we’re not getting it and we think they should just defy our vibration and do the manifesting for us. We can stop shutting down the joy of others because it makes us more acutely aware of our misery.
So, what is an apology really about, when it’s aligned with who we really are? Well, if we were all aligned, apologies wouldn’t be necessary. We would all own our triggers, set boundaries clearly and respect each other. But in the “real” world, we’re not all aligned. So, I propose a new way to look at apologizing. Of course, your apology will often make the other person feel better, but only if it’s authentic. And the way to get authentic is to not make the apology about the other person and their offense. You can’t need them to feel better so you can feel better. Make the apology about you. Don’t be sorry for their pain (which is actually a form of condescension. You are looking at the other person as though they are weaker than you, and it’s your responsibility to make them feel better). Rather, be sorry for not being in alignment. Apologize to yourself and them for not being who you really are, for not reacting consciously, and set the intention to do better. Appreciate them for not only showing you where their boundary is, but for providing you with the opportunity to see in what way you were not quite being your true self. If they then don’t accept your apology and/or need you to suffer more before they’ll feel better, understand that this is really their own issue.
Apologizing should never be about diminishing yourself. It should also never be about appeasing the other person, so they can feel better. It should be about growth and evolution. It should be about recognizing that you were really hurting yourself. It should be about forgiveness, first and foremost about forgiving yourself (you cannot depend on their ability to forgive you so you can feel better, since you can’t control how they feel). It should be about recognizing when you are not your true self and striving to move into the energy of who you really are, a being of true love, wisdom and awesomeness. When you approach an apology this way, when you take the time to figure out what REALLY happened and you shift into more of who you are, when you apologize authentically, the entire Universe will bend over backwards to mirror this new, authentic self back to you. And before you know it, you’ll have nothing left to apologize for.