Tuesday, 14 February 2017

On Owning Up to Your Mistakes and the Power of Apology

Bouquet of flowers, mostly pale pink and yellow roses

You may remember that last year, I talked about VOYA's review of YA novel Run by Kody Keplinger, and how appalling it was that the review recommended the book for older readers, simply because one of the characters is bisexual. At the end of the post, I suggested that book reviewers of any kind read Perception of Diversity in Book Reviews by Malinda Lo on Diveristy in YA. I then proceeded to re-read it myself, and when I got to "A Lot to Decode", I realised something. In a review I'd written for This Is Not a Love Story by Keren David the year before, a book which features Jewish characters and Hebrew terminology, I had been offensive. I hadn't realised it at the time due to my privilege, but Lo's post pointed out exactly what I had done wrong. I'm not going to go into what I had done wrong, as you can read about it here.

I was disgusted with myself, ashamed, and full of remorse. I knew I couldn't leave things as they were; at this point, no-one had told me the review was offensive, but that doesn't mean it didn't offend anyone, and I had to change it so it didn't offend anyone in the future. I was in a dilemma. I'd seen all the controversy around VOYA's review, how people were reacting to the review, and how those who worked on VOYA reacted to the criticism. I had made a mistake, and I had to fix it, but I wasn't sure the best way to go about it. I knew I had to edit my review, but just editing my review felt like I was covering up my mistake. I wasn't owning up to my mistake, I wasn't apologising. But how was I to do that without risking offending people further?

In the end, I decided to take a screen cap of my review as it was originally, then I edited my review, and wrote a post to acknowledge my mistake and apologise for being offensive, full of contrition and repentance, with a link to the screencap for transparency. I also linked to my apology and the screencap at the beginning of my edited review; in time, my apology would get hidden after the new post, and if someone hadn't seen my apology, it might still look like I was covering up.

I was really nervous. I had done something awful, and I was expecting people to, understandably, have a go at me for it. What I wasn't expecting was praise. There were a lot of people in the YA book community who simply retweeted my tweet linking to my post, most of which were authors, but there were also people who replied to me to praise me for owning up to my mistake, and to thank me for apologising. It was because of the controversy around VOYA magazine that led me to realising I had written an offensive review, but people were retweeting my post saying that this is what VOYA should have done. A large number of people were hurt by VOYA's review, and this was also around the time when the US election campaigns were taking place, and someone was offending people left, right and centre, but some people tweeted me to say that my apology had given them back their hope that there were still decent people in the world.

I was overwhelmed by the response. I was genuinely thinking people would reprimand me, but I didn't get a single negative response to my post. It was like people were proud of me for being honest about what I did, and genuinely grateful for my apology. I think it's down to the fact that I realised I had made a mistake, and I came out and said so, rather than ignoring it, trying to hide it, or having to being called out on it, and that my apology was genuine.

Saying "I'm sorry" is easy. They're just words. Saying the words doesn't necessarily mean you are actually apologetic. And they can be especially meaningless if you only apologise after being called out on something you've done knowing full well what you've done is wrong. But this has taught me that a genuine apology - especially when you're admitting to your mistakes off your own back - trying to make amends, and promising to try to do better in the future is greatly appreciated. Of course, it would be better if we didn't make mistakes in the first place, but a genuine apology really does go a long way.

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