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Mindful : June 2019
sense of self, it’s easier to apologize for it. For most of us, having the body control of a ballet dancer isn’t crit- ical to our sense of self, so acciden- tally bumping into someone usually triggers an immediate “I’m sorry, excuse me.” “If the transgression doesn’t reflect on your character or your morality, it doesn’t threaten your self-image to acknowledge it with an apology,” Schumann said. But failing to help a loved one, insulting a friend, not living up to expectations—there’s a long list of misdeeds that can reflect poorly on “magnitude gap” between how each side describes an offense. Compared to victims, transgressors are more likely to justify their transgression, describe it as inadvertent, or min- imize the resulting hurt. Believing the offense was a mere slip-up (But I remembered your birthday every other year!), understandable (I’ve been so busy at work), or the victim’s fault (If you gave me more freedom, I wouldn’t feel the need to be dis- honest) reduces the emotional and cognitive impetus to apologize. Another reason an apology might be MIA is that the transgressor simply doesn’t care. Apologies can be a way to reconnect with the victim and repair a damaged relationship by communicating remorse and sym- pathy. If you’re not concerned with any of that, there’s no motivation to apologize. Did the boss make you work late into the night, weekends, or holidays without so much as a “sorry” (or “thank you”)? She likely doesn’t really care about your dinner plans or vacation time with family. Then there’s narcissism. Lack of empathy and an inability to recognize personal missteps (Me? Impossible!) are traits that make narcissistic peo- ple less likely to apologize than those who aren’t as self-absorbed. People who don’t or can’t see things from another’s perspective (How could my saying that dress makes you look fat hurt your feelings?) and those who believe personality is fixed rather than malleable also tend to apologize less. As Schumann reeled off these barri- ers to apologizing, I thought, Not me, nope, not that one either. Then, there it was: Apologizing, she explained, is hell on one’s self-image as a decent, caring, sensitive, moral person. A Long, Hard Look in the Mirror If a wrong reflects poorly on some- thing insignificant to a person’s WHEN PEOPLE FOCUS ON THEIR CORE VALUES, THEY SEEM TO BECOME MORE WILLING TO SINCERELY APOLOGIZE. brain science 34 mindful June 2019