Thursday, December 26, 2013

What Do You Mean When You Say "I'm Sorry"?


I’m sorry. How often do we say those words and really mean them? I have been accused of apologizing simply to make myself feel better, an accusation which held real weight, but I was not truly prepared to address that claim until I read Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Americanah blew me away. It’s been a while since I’ve read a book that I think everyone should read, but Americanah was such a book. I continually dog-eared pages that held quotes that I wanted to save in my Word document, until Aaron teased me that I was dog-earing the entire book! Not only was this novel exquisitely, elegantly written, but it opened a new facet of the conversation about race in America that I believe every American should think through. So stop reading this post and go to the library or local bookstore!

There was one scene in Americanah, however, that really struck me personally. The main character, Ifemelu, is giving her impression of the woman she babysits for, Kimberly, and many of her descriptions of Kimberly reminded me of myself, even though I didn't want them to. At one point, Ifemelu essentially says that Kimberly apologizes to make herself feel better, and in the context of the story and Kimberly’s apology, I suddenly understood the impact of that idea. Kimberly was apologizing for another person that may have hurt Ifemelu’s feelings, yet it wasn't Kimberly’s place to apologize for the perceived pain at all. The other person had created a potentially awkward scene that Kimberly was trying to diminish, because it made her feel awkward, even if no one else felt that way. Adichie’s description of the scene cut to the heart of the way the characters were feeling: “…Kimberly’s repeated apologies were tinged with self-indulgence, as though she believed that she could, with apologies, smooth all the scalloped surfaces of the world” (Adichie 165).

How often do I apologize just to make that little bit of discomfort go away? Sometimes it is more honest to let the discomfort be. If we sweep every bit of unpleasantness under the rug, usually people end up more hurt than if we had just addressed the issue in the open and worked through it together.

There’s a non-confrontational side to me, especially when I argue with Aaron, that prompts me to apologize briskly to whisk a fight away. I have a hard time walking away from a dispute, even when it would be healthy to allow a little space to think before trying to work things out. For inside me lurks an insistent urge to make things perfect before having any fun. Even though it can be incredibly beneficial to step away and breathe, and take a shower, or journal, before trying to solve a disagreement, I have an extremely hard time allowing that space to act as a healing salve for a conflict. Instead, I long to wave a magic apology wand and “smooth all the scalloped surfaces of the world”.

Americanah showed me that sometimes it can be more constructive to sit with the silence, to ponder unpleasantness, in all its varied angles, instead of trying to brush it aside so that I can feel better about myself. Apologizing for this reason is such a temporary fix. It doesn't solve any real issues expect for a bruised ego.

Works Cited:
Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. Americanah. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013.

No comments:

Post a Comment