Getting straight to the point here – if you have caused someone (or multiple someones) hurt or harm, you have a responsibility to take ownership, apologize, and try to make it better. Even the purest of intentions does not negate this fact, nor does it provide you with absolution.
When I type it out it seems so painfully obvious to me that it shouldn’t even need to be said. And yet, there are people out there who disagree.
I stumble across people who think that saying “but I didn’t MEAN to hurt anyone” excuses them from any responsibility every so often and it always really bothers me. Recently, though, I came across someone who thought that with an additional specific autism modification. According to that person, an autistic person needing to take responsibility and apologize for any hurt/harm they caused, even if they didn’t mean it or understand, is just demanding that autistic people bend over backwards to accommodate NTs.
It isn’t. That person is wrong.
To be clear, autistic people do need to accommodate NTs a LOT. A WHOLE lot. Seriously, just so much. We adapt to NT social norms, we conform to NT body language, we change ourselves to make NTs more comfortable.
This, though? Apologizing, taking responsibility, regardless of intent? Is NOT that kind of accommodation. It’s just being a decent human being.
And to be clear – NTs need to do this too. NTs are also capable of hurting others or causing harm without intending to or even understanding at the time that what they did could be hurtful. And NTs need to take responsibility and apologize when it happens. And yes, sometimes NTs are bad at doing that and it’s frustrating.
Now, the “understanding” aspect of this is definitely a complicating factor at times. There have definitely been times in my life when I’ve accidentally hurt someone and not only did I totally not intend to, but I was entirely lost as to what exactly it was that hurt them. It’s hard to take responsibility for my actions if I don’t even know what I did that was wrong. And it can be incredibly frustrating when I genuinely want to know – I don’t want to hurt anyone! But I can’t learn how to avoid it if I don’t know what I did! – but people aren’t willing to tell me or just insist that “you know what you did.” No I don’t! That’s why I’m asking!
Even so, even with all that frustration, it’s still on me. If I hurt someone or caused them harm, it’s still my responsibility to take ownership, apologize, and try to be better in the future. Even if I don’t know exactly what I did, I can at least apologize for hurting them. In fact, that’s often a really great step one if I want them to tell me what I did wrong. If I make it abundantly clear that I genuinely am regretful and I truly didn’t want to hurt them, I have found that people will be far more willing to believe me when I say that I don’t understand but I want to. And yes, part of this is deliberately communicating in a way that NTs will understand. The simple question “what did I do wrong?” without any padding will, to NTs, look like excuse-making or dodging responsibility. I suspect that when NTs say that, they really are making excuses or dodging responsibility. That, at least, would explain why they take it that way when autistic people say it. So I add padding. It helps.
I do that because for real – I don’t want to hurt people. If I do something that hurt or harmed someone, I really am regretful. If I don’t understand or know what I did, I want to learn so I can avoid hurting people in the future. You know, because I’m not a jackass. And because it’s my responsibility.
To make the usual analogy – it doesn’t matter if I intended to step on your toes or not. If I stepped on them and hurt you, I need to apologize and maybe look out for my feet better. To extend the analogy – maybe my feet are ridiculously tough. Maybe it never hurts me when someone steps on my toes, so it doesn’t occur to me that it might hurt other people. Nevertheless, it will hurt other people, and when faced with that it’s on me to learn, to do better, and to apologize to the people I hurt.