When Wisdom Isn’t

Don’t you love these little bits of wisdom that Anonymous1 and others publish to help us find our way? Of course, one cannot forget the friends and associates who help spread these so-called truths in one way or another. Take the one on the left, for example, so wise, so meaningful.

Snarkiness aside, there is some truth to this bit of anonymous wisdom. Who cares if St. Louis Style barbecue is better than Memphis Style. Does it really matter if the Dallas Cowboys are America’s Team or if the Pats are the best team ever to put on cleats? Oh! If I have offended anyone by not mentioning the Packers, the 49’ers, or your favorite team, I apologize.

Just kidding! Even though Jerry has pretty much neutered the ‘Boys throughout his reign, their star will rise again when the time is right. As for Brady and his crew, we all know they cheat!

Back to reality, so to speak. The problem with the quotation above is what it does not say. There are times when it is crucial to make it clear one’s position is the right position, regardless of the consequences. For example, consider domestic abuse.

When one mentions domestic abuse, most people immediately envision a battered or abused wife. That assumption is wrong on at least two levels. First, not all abuse is physical. Second, the husband is not always the abuser. A third, misconception is the belief all abusers have a history of abusing others or entered into the relationship with the intent to dominate the other party, through any means necessary.

True, some abusers have a history indicating their propensity for violence, either physical or psychological. Yet, that is not always the case. Either way, as the article on abuse referenced below makes clear, the wronged party may be able to avoid or stop the violence. By the way, apologies are likely not the answer.

Apologizing to an abusive, pushy, or overbearing individual may be a poor strategy.   In fact, apologizing, and letting the other party feel vindicated may be feeding his or her need to assert power. With that said, let’s avoid digging farther into the domestic abuse issue. For a better understanding of how or when to deal with abusers check out an article on the topic in Psychology Today. That piece deals with that issue more effectively and deeply than is necessary to debunk the meme above.

Here, let’s focus on that friend, associate, or relative who always needs to be right or have the last word. You don’t appreciate their attitude, but for whatever reason, you feel the relationship is more important than appearing to have an overblown sense of self-importance.

For example, consider the coworker who continually pushes your buttons in one way or another. Failure to confront this issue may result in everything from merely making the workplace uncomfortable to what might be considered a hostile work environment; for you and others. Of course, serious issues may need intervention from HR or management, but anything short of that might be up to you.

Consider the office gossip, for example. You know! The person who regularly shares some salacious update concerning a coworker, client, or celebrity. For whatever reason, you do not want to be part of that particular game, but it is not an HR worthy issue.  That means, you either put up with it or say something.

Should you decide to address the matter with the gossip, he or she will respond in one way or another. For instance, the person may go off in a huff.  In that case, you can rest assured the individual will not bother you again. On the other hand, you may become the focus of the gossip network for a time.

It is possible to minimize the negative impact of telling the gossip to take a hike. For example, do not use the term “take a hike.”  Find a more respectful way to make it clear you wish to be left out of the gossip loop. One, that does not give the person an easy excuse to be offended. It is also likely, no matter how diplomatically one tries to handle the situation, the other party will feel hurt, angry, or unliked. If a negative response is apparent, you may, as the meme above suggests, feel the need to apologize to save whatever is left of the relationship. Don’t do it! Here is why.

You will be impowering the other party. He or she may see your principles are a convenience, that the appropriate challenge will cause you to surrender. People who make inappropriate comments are often testing the waters, especially in a new relationship. Accepting their overture, without comment, can be a problem. Anyone not making it clear he or she does not play that that game, may find the level of inappropriate activity increasing. They will be seen as an ally.

Keep in mind, people attempting to drag others into their circle of gossips, bigots, or whatever will be prepared, consciously or unconsciously, for a negative response. They may act hurt, angry, or confused. Whether that is a genuine response or a tactic, makes little difference. If you genuinely believe your comment or position was apology worthy, it may be appropriate at some point to issue an apology.  Whatever you decide, do not say the words “I am sorry.”2

Yes, it is possible to apologize without compromising your position on a matter.  Unfortunately, digging into that subject is more appropriate for a workshop, seminar, or coaching session than a blog post. The point to remember here is that a blanket apology may give the other party the idea they can try again in the future.

The point to remember is this. The unattributed comment above is not a blanket statement of truth. Compromising deep-held beliefs or agreeing to something one knows is wrong to save a relationship is a mistake. If maintaining a relationship means compromising one’s standards, the relationship may need to be reconsidered.

Finally, many of these tips or bits of wisdom aren’t what they seem. Yes, they sound lovely, warm, cuddly, etc.  Still, in many cases, regardless of who authored the statement, they are nice-sounding platitudes with all the depth of a bottle cap.

  1. I find these “anonymous” attributions amusing for several reasons. First, it is likely the true attribution is “unknown.” Second, there often is someone willing to take credit for the quotation, but determining the true source is too much trouble. Also, if it sounds good, and I want to publish it without running into copyright problems, I’ll just attribute it to the all-knowing, Anonymous.
  2. Some will argue “I’m sorry” is more sincere and remorseful than an apology.  I regret that is the case, as people can use either word and not mean it, but the number of non-apology, apologies coming through the media and social media certainly taints the process.  While there are ways to make an “I apologize” as meaningful or even more meaningful than “I’m sorry,” that is the topic for another essay.  On the other hand, when you’ve hurt someone’s pride, and say “I’m sorry,” two things may happen.  You may feel negatively about yourself, after all, you said you were sorry, and they may be thinking, “You sure are!”

© oneoldcop.com – 2019

About S. Eric Jackson

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1 Response to When Wisdom Isn’t

  1. oldcowdog says:

    I like it! One of the ways to acknowledge what is said, without either committing to acceptance or rejection is to simply say, “I acknowledge your position and promise to weigh it carefully.” Of course, there are a hundred ways to wordsmith that for the person and the occasion. Happy New Years.

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