Other day at the store, I heard a parent disciplining their child. I only heard a tiny bit, but it echoed in real life of something that Marshall Rosenberg said. Rosenberg had this metaphor for language types, where he referred to giraffe language and jackal language. The idea behind giraffe language is a bit complex, and not necessary at this juncture. What’s important is jackal language, language Rosenberg argued is language for judging and imposing. The example he used in talks all the time about jackal language was of a parent teaching their child the most basic jackal words:
“Say you’re sorry!”
“You didn’t mean that. Say it like you mean it.”
I overheard this exchange, more or less, in the store. A parent, lecturing a child, and making them apologise. I don’t mean to judge that parent, it’s not my place to and I don’t know their context. It still put me in mind of I thought about it, and I thought about how my friends and I interact.
I hear ‘I’m sorry’ a lot.
I hear it from people who are having some of the worst experiences of their lives. I hear it from people who are struggling with illness and with their minds. I hear it from people who are struggling with being oppressed by governments and abused by family members. I hear it from people who are afraid and I hear it from people who are angry. So often, I have to tell people, no, don’t apologise, because you haven’t done anything wrong. Sorry I’m broken, sorry I’m sad, sorry I keep leaning on you, sorry I’m late, sorry I’m a mess. I so often offer that push back, not because I misunderstand the feeling – but because I feel that if you apologise for something in your mind, it’s easier for you to think of it as a misdeed.
This is a hard habit to break. And I don’t mean to downplay you if you have that habit.
What I was hoping I could do is encourage you to say thank you.
Thank you for waiting for me. Thank you for your time. Thank you for listening. Thank you for treating my feelings with respect. Thank you for the thing you do for me, when you listen to me.
I don’t mean to recommend this like this is brilliant praxis or something. It’s not a unique idea. I’m not going to be mad at you if you don’t do things this way, too. It’s just an idea.
The reason I hope for this, though, is because sorry is about a past misdeed; thank you is about a present deed. If I am surrounded by people apologising to me, that language, that I will start to think in terms of things I can do to help rather than the paralysis of being asked a forgiveness I can’t give.