June 25, 2012

Dear Women and Men, I Won’t Apologize To You.

photo by J. Gaddis

Dear Women and Men,

It’s time to get more creative in healing the divide between our genders.

First things first. I won’t apologize to either gender. Not yet.

Here’s why.

I’ve grown tired of apologies.

People apologize too quickly in this culture. The new age spiritual scene is all about it right recently. Examples include the Dear Women video, Dear Divine Feminine, I’m Sorry, Letter of Apology to Men, the Hoʻoponopono method, etc. And, while I like the Call to the Sacred Masculine from Lori Ann Lothian, I also felt a bit boxed in and missed (my video response to her here).

I do love the intent however. I so appreciate the attempts to clean up the rift between us in order to love deeper. I’m a yes to that. Thank you for the effort. And, if it truly worked, we’d be in a different place. We humans are a funny lot, we need more than just an apology to come back into love and openness.

Apologies can work….sometimes. It’s understandable why we want to apologize and make amends. That’s what we all learned as kids. Everyday I see grown ups teach their kids to apologize first and foremost once the children have done something the big folks perceive as “wrong.” Then, the kids go back to playing, but something got missed…

What gets glossed over?

My own take is that adults expect kids to apologize fast because we are, by and large, an emotionally constipated culture.

Adults and teachers are straight-up afraid (i.e. very uncomfortable) to validate or “stay with” someone’s pain so we want to fast forward the process when people are upset. “Hurry up and get back to your happy place, you are making me uncomfortable.” Apologizing is a “get out of jail free card.” It lets you of the hook. We don’t need to own anything. Somehow, we get to clean our hands of our mistakes because “hey, I apologized.”

Another hidden cost of the rapid-fire apology is that if we have been on the receiving end of pain by another person and they rush to apologize (because they are uncomfortable and want us to be “okay”) and we are not “over it” at that point, we are victims, whiners and weak. It’s a strange trap—we get hurt by their actions, then blamed if we take too long to “get over it.” I certainly have done that one to my partner many times, and even my own children.


I can do better and we can do better.

Earlier in our relationship, when my wife and I fought and I tried to speed up the process of reconnecting because I was uncomfortable with her upset, she felt missed, became irritated and the rift between us increased.


So, I had to go back to the drawing board and listen to her feedback.

Photo: Johanna Reimer

Aha, impact and validation. Right, she loves it when I see, get, and know her experience best I can. She wants me to know that my actions have impacted her in some way.  As I get her experience, she softens, her nervous systems comes out of fight or flight, and she is available for connection again. I’m the same way. Don’t rush me. I’ll get there eventually. When I begin to understand the impact of my behavior, an apology is often not even necessary.

So, we can apologize all we want to women or to men, but without first getting the impact and truly understanding what we did or have done from their perspective, our apology is premature.

It is my strong opinion that what we need is not apologizing, but instead listening.

Deep listening to each other’s rage, grief, hurt, and pain. In my view we need serious gender healing where we really get the impact male behavior (personal and collective) has on women, and female behavior (personal and collective) has on men.

I know for me that when I feel heard, I relax.

Think about it. We, as a collective, are like one big scared animal—like a giant porcupine with its quills out, on alert, defensive and protecting deep hurt inside. Saying “I’m sorry” has only gotten of few of you to relax your quills. The rest of us need to be known. Our hurt needs to be seen, acknowledged and received by another human being. Then this giant porcupine that is you and me can begin to relax, open and trust.

So here’s my advice. Yes, this is straight up advice.

1. Stop apologizing. Set it on the shelf until we’ve done the next three steps.

2.  Do whatever inner work we need to do to genuinely listen to the other gender. This will include reconciliation/integration with our own inner man or animus (i.e. introjected father or male figures in our life) and our own inner woman or anima (i.e. mom and introjected key women from our upbringing).

In other words, when I’ve been hurt by, or mad at, “the feminine,” thus carrying a resentment toward “all women,” the path to resolve it was not to ask women to be different, but to heal me by going inward.

If you think “masculine” or feminine” are false constructs, no worries, just focus on the yin and yang inside of you, or pick whatever split is going on in there. Dark/light is very useful for some.

I personally start by accepting I have a polarity existing within me. I want the entire polarity (both sides) to be known and integrated as much as possible as I grow.

3. Be aware of the trap of asking the other gender to be different than they are.

As a man, I can want my wife to be different, but I don’t need her to be. At the end of the day asking the opposing gender to be different is a slippery slope into a familiar dead-end. Accepting my wife as she is is the way out. When I accept her as she is, I’m cast back on myself, and instead of struggling to change a world I can’t control outside of me, I get to change what’s going on inside of me.

4. Listen deeply with unflinching curiosity.

We all know that when we come in angry at the opposite gender with our guns loaded and blame ready in our quiver, it ain’t going to go well, period. Unless he/she is really available to listen without getting defensive, she/he will not hear you. He/she will respond in kind with his/her own shit and your rage will provoke his/hers. You want to fight? Do what you’ve always done and blame him/her. Anyone can play that game and we all know where this leads us—right where we currently are.

Try approaching a scared animal with blame or aggression and the feedback will be instantaneous—it will get more scared and, in turn, aggressive.

Instead, let’s get creative in our commitment to really hear their side. What effective listening tools do we have at our disposal? How about we try some new ones? NVC, imago and circling, are some of my favorites. I am willing to do whatever it takes to deeply listen and receive someone’s pain. When someone is upset, whoever they are, let’s attempt to get their experience. Get curious and stay curious.

Will the above suggestions really do anything? In my opinion? Yes. And, I don’t have any illusions to solve all gender challenges. I just want some freakin’ traction here. Our scared animal needs some serious love people!!!

Gender healing conferences and workshops

Here’s my final suggestion– An experiment called “Healing the Divide” that I have done successfully on a small scale.

In the past, academics and intellectuals have done most of the “gender work” analyzing the problem from 30,000 feet. While incredibly valuable, this does little to heal the wounds between us. I believe we need real, raw, face-to-face interactions with artful facilitation in a “safe” space where we can clear the logjam between us. I know it’s possible because I have seen it happen with real people in real time (More on my proposal here).

In my experience with couples and workshops with men and women, the deal breaker is when one person lays down their sword and gets the other person’s experience. And for some of us, we need to express our hurt or outrage before we’re able to hear someone else’s. It can be very tricky work. But the willing folks come out the other side more connected, less resentful, and move toward more integration and wholeness inside.

So, before I apologize to you women, I need to know what I have done. Keep in mind, some men might not be ready or willing to listen. I’ll speak for myself. I am. I want to hear it. Bring it. How have I personally hurt you, abused you, betrayed you, and caused you undue suffering? I’m here and I’m willing to listen as best I can. One condition: in person, face to face. And, if you don’t know me, and the man who has deeply hurt you is not present, I’m willing to stand in his seat so that you can be seen and heard by a man willing to receive all of you. I know dozens of men like me, ready and willing.

The entire point of an experiment like this is to eliminate projections and get us connected again. Let’s clear the subtle or overt ways we might still be blaming women or men for our own challenges in life.

And for now, I suggest we pause on the apologizing before we really know the impact (and it will be different for every person). If we are going to use “divine” and “sacred” to describe each other, let’s act like it by getting into our human bodies where our pain and hurt live. Only there, in our immediate somatic experience can we release the pain, one step at a time.

That was my take, let’s hear yours.

Editor: Lynn Hasselberger

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