Perhaps the number one risk factor for being a non-apologizer is being born male, just as the number one risk factor for being an over-apologizer is being born female.
Research repeatedly shows that more men than women just won’t go there when it comes to apologizing—a finding that holds true across cultures.
Most parents don’t intentionally set out to raise their sons to be a James Bond or a man-of-steel type figure, but none of us is entirely free of gender stereotypes. While feminism has challenged old gender roles, they remain very much with us.
“Be a man!” I recently heard a dad tell his eight-year-old son who was sobbing on the soccer field. I hadn’t heard these words in a while, but every kid knows what it means to "man up": Be strong, don’t cry, don’t be too soft, sensitive or vulnerable, don’t be a sissy…in a word, don’t be like a girl.
In contrast, the command to “Be a woman!” has no meaning at all, although the dictate to “Be a lady!” is perfectly clear.
We continue to shame boys for half of their humanity, which we label “feminine.” Our sons still grow up having to prove their masculinity over and over again to other men, often in the form of achieving status, dominance, and financial success.
For some men, the very act of apologizing, of simply saying, “I was wrong, I made a mistake, I’m sorry,” may feel uncomfortable, if not intolerable. As one man put it, “It makes me feel weak to apologize. It’s like losing something and giving the other person the superior edge. And once you let your guard down, the other person can take advantage of you.”
This “manly” way of being in the world does not lend itself to offering a heartfelt apology when an apology is due. And the truth of the matter is this: Without the ability to give and receive apologies our intimate and work relationships would become impossibly tragic.
Take a look at Why Won't You Apologize? and get it right. When defensiveness kicks in, we're all apology challenged. And we all grow in maturity and self-respect (including in the eyes of others) one heartfelt apology at a time.