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Subtle Transformations: When the Little Things Uphold a Lot

 

Subtle Transformations: When the Little Things Uphold a Lot

By Deb Kline, 01-28-23


What if we have more power than we know? What if the smallest shift in interactions with our beloveds could foster a wave of loving kindness in our larger world? Would you do it? And what if it involved simply setting aside our preferences to disrupt behaviors that yield supremacy? I envision this possibility, and it involves rethinking who owes us an apology.


A friend recommended a podcast discussing the contents of a good apology. Knowing the reputation of the podcaster and the interviewee expert I eagerly pushed play. Before long, I was disappointed to identify some red flags when the apology expert used their personal, real-life examples of situations where they were owed an apology from an offending party. While I agreed with ingredients listed that make up a good apology, the examples presented where an assumption of apology was warranted were questionable at best, harmful at worst: questionable, because the infractions involved personal preference violations rather than human need violations; and harmful, because the insistence that others cater to our personal preference forms the building blocks of supremacy disguised as maintaining polite society.


Example 1: The expert retells being called out publicly by a fellow diner at a formal dining event for noshing on all the brie meant for everyone to share. The public embarrassment experienced by the expert, in their mind, warranted an apology from the fellow diner. I suppose the fellow diner could have simply asked the expert to please pass the brie or opt to ignore the minor offence and avoid drawing the unwanted attention. But that is not what happened. I imagined if this had happened to me. Does someone need to apologize to me for telling the truth of a situation (Deb, you are hogging all the brie meant for everyone) because it embarrassed me? No. My embarrassment is my own. I made a mistake. Someone pointed it out. There were witnesses. Being embarrassed is an appropriate response when I agree to see my own mistake through someone else’s perspective. I am not owed an apology. Why does this matter?


The supremacist systems we inhabit perpetuate harm by punishing the whistle blower thereby protecting the perpetrator. This minor cheese infraction is a symptom of a larger systemic ill: do not tell the truth and expose my mistake, or if you do, apologize to me because you are at fault for making me look bad. Consider how this entitlement perspective fuels the support for curriculum bans of U.S. history books that include genocide and slavery. Or contributes to a culture where a rapist’s version of their crime is given more consideration than the rape victim’s experience of being violently assaulted. And it provides the silence needed for adults to abuse children behind closed doors. The unspoken rule is “You are wrong for speaking up.” And the unspoken rule infects the smallest of interactions—even cheese policing.


Example 2: The expert shares wanting the spouse to apologize for buying one bunch of five yellow bananas, because the spouse has been advised that the better way to purchase bananas is to buy five single bananas in varying stages of ripeness. I can see that it would be nice if my spouse remembered and honored my banana specifications when grocery shopping and I might be disappointed that they forgot, but I do not expect an apology.


This is another personal preference violation rather than a human need violation. This is another entitlement expectation that has seeped into our daily lives from the greater culture of supremacy: my preference is right/superior/honored, and your preference is wrong/inferior/dismissed. Be it religious wars, race wars, cultural wars, this refusal to abide that there are other legitimate ways of doing, thinking, and being beyond my own perspective dismisses the humanity of others and strokes a toxic ego. It is not the preference itself that is problematic. It is the expectation that my preference be met by another, or they have wronged me. A seemingly trivial expectation of daily living—banana buying in the manner to which I am accustomed—reverberates into the larger demands of the oppressive culture.


My preferences are not needed requirements for my survival. I do not seek an apology from the weather when I prefer summer to winter, sun to clouds, and warm to cold. The weather just is. I make do. I do not demand an apology from my aging body for slowing, weakening, and tiring, though the culture persuades me otherwise. My body just is. I make do. And I do not request apologies from the people around me, from stranger to nearest and dearest, who do not abide my preferences. People just are. I make do. The more I make do, the more room I make for a kinder and gentler world for myself and those around me.


What if we have more power than we know? What if the smallest shift in interactions with our beloveds could foster a wave of loving kindness in our larger world? Would you do it? And what if it involved simply setting aside our preferences to disrupt behaviors that yield supremacy? I envision this possibility, and it involves rethinking who owes us an apology.


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