*Disclaimer – I don’t like generalizations, and any of those below are based on personal experiences and refer to notable characteristics of a significant portion, but of course not all people referenced in the group.
If there is something many Italians are good at, it is being sure of themselves.
Now, there are times when it is good – great, in fact, to apologize. When I got held up at a meeting and left my friend waiting for an hour before dinner, I apologized. When someone steps on your foot on the subway, saying a quick “sorry” is appropriate. When you accidentally break your brother’s favorite toy, you should feel sorry – and replace it. These are simply just and courteous acts of apologizing and making things right.
When a waiter spills boiling hot water over your leg and does not apologize, in turn blaming you for “moving” (since you are an alive human being this should really not surprise him), that is wrong. When you do someone wrong and are too cowardly to apologize, both parties will be left hurting.
I think you get the picture – apologizing, but above all, truly feeling sorry, is a good and natural thing in certain situations. Some apologies, we will yearn for and never get, and it is up to our inner strength and capacity to accept that. However, there is such a thing as being too apologetic. Being too nice, being too forthcoming. And believe me, if you are somewhat like that, you will feel liberated once you let go of your inner “always-sorry” instinct. This is what I’m talking about: Did you ever try to fix things that were beyond your control? Do you blame yourself for relationships gone wrong, forgetting it takes two to (mess up the) tango? Do you feel gnawing guilt over little things that you already apologized for, but are still ashamed of? I know that I can feel terrible about something small, like misspelling somebody’s name in an e-mail, even weeks later. My father to this day – twelve years later – still feels bad about getting a little mad at my brother when he was five, and as a consequence ignored him for a 10 minute car ride. It is a running joke in our family now, but my Papa’s face is in sincere pain every time we laugh about the incident.
Now in Italy, I noticed people are shockingly unapologetic. I am talking about general observations contrasted with the American instinct to say sorry *even before you actually may have accidentally touched a stranger’s arm a little bit. *
The Italians I have met, they are not sorry for little things. They have a right to mess up, and they use that right. You have that right, too.
I know this may sound very simple, but think about how often you have a heavy conscience over small things. How afraid you may be that someone is still upset over an unintentional slip-up. If you find it hard to let go of this weight, you may be able to learn something from an unapologetic mindset. Try this – next time you get very worked up over an unintentional mishap, or feel a lingering pain over something you already apologized and/or made up for, take a deep breath and think to yourself, “It is over and done. It happened, I acknowledged it, and there is no more I can do to make it better. I am not the first to make this mistake, nor the last. However, I have the choice to continue feeling bad, or to let it go, and make sure the other party is treated with utmost care to avoid any further unintended discomfort.”
For example, the friend I made wait for an hour? I will be 5 minutes early to our next meetings, at least. The time I spent a night writing emails instead of devoting my full attention to my friend because I had procrastinated a deadline? Next time, I will cook the dinner and make sure electronics are out of sight, at least from my part. All these, accompanied by one sincere apology, make things so much lighter for you to bare. Lighter, and more productive. Try to reduce the weight of your guilt over unintended incidents.
Be light, be good. And if you make a mistake, be productive in making sure it does not happen again, freeing all from the burden of guilt and disappointment. Your conscience – and your loved ones – will thank you!
Good vibes always!