To be honest, I’d rather we brushed over the Speed Awareness Course part of this story, although that could be difficult as it’s the context and reason for the tale. Maybe I should just own my part in this: I drove too fast and I got caught. How embarrassing.
How even more embarrassing that I did it in my husband’s car so he got the penalty notice and came through and said “I think this is for you”. How mortifying that I the, I like to think (and maybe sometimes say), better driver, was handed the penalty notice by my, trying desperately not to smirk, husband.
How galling to have my children shake their heads at me, with my disappointed expression on their remarkably mini-me faces. Gah!
How utterly annoying that I couldn’t intercede the envelope and deal with the whole affair without anyone knowing.
It’s been a humbling affair and, whilst I did race off to the internet to see if there was any way there had been a mistake and momentarily felt vindicated by the fact that it was a recent and not well highlighted change in the limit, the reality had to be accepted that I had not noticed the speed limit and thus broke it.
It was my fault.
I was not right.
It may take a while to recover from this body blow.
I slunk into the hotel lobby where the course was to take place, cast my eye around and bought myself a coffee before trying to sit on a sofa looking as though I was there for a far nobler purpose. As I tried to look business like, tapping away on my iPad, I noticed other people slinking in, avoiding eye contact and then starting to group together and compare notes. I wasn’t like these other people so I stayed where I was.
Eventually my curiosity overcame me and, acknowledging inwardly that in fact I was here for exactly the same reason as everyone else, I said hello to the man sat next to me.
Slight aside here: these people were all men. Out of a group of 20 people I was the only woman. I like to do my bit for women’s lib, I’m all for gender equality, but this was never how I envisaged making sure there’s a woman in the boardroom. However, I can now clearly state that I can speed like the best of them.
And then it began: a litany of stories about why these people shouldn’t be here. I’ve never heard so many excuses. Speed cameras that don’t give you enough time to slow down as you come off the motorway, policeman that should be out catching criminals not stopping decent citizens from getting from A to B, policemen that weren’t really policemen (don’t ask, I didn’t really understand this one), speed limits that are set too low. . .
The single most hilarious conversation I had was with a man who spent five minutes telling me why he shouldn’t be there, how if he had more money he’d have fought this in court and how it wasn’t him guv . . before telling me that he was an ex-prison officer. I had to freeze the expression on my face so that it didn’t register the irony of a man who has spent his life imprisoning people who ‘didn’t do it’ telling me that he ‘didn’t do it’.
There was a more awkward moment when we were sat at our desks ready to learn and another man came in shouting the odds at everyone, telling the trainers all about the ‘very rude’ policeman who had stopped him speeding and who was getting very irate about being in the session. He got sent outside to calm down. It all started to get a bit like school – particularly when he got his phone confiscated for using it when he’d been asked not to.
I reverted to teacher’s pet mode and got all stressed about answering the questions correctly and embarrassed myself horribly by doing a quiet little “Whoop, I win” when I was the only one who knew how to draw a STOP and a Give Way sign. In my defence, I had been sat still and quiet for an interminably long time at this point, but what a way to make the class hate you!
I learned a lot. I’m going to stick my neck out and say I think most of us would benefit from going on a course like that every ten years or so, but the thing that stuck with me most was how hard it is for humans to admit when they are wrong.
I’m like it myself – I really did spend an hour on the Internet trying to find a reason why it wasn’t my fault I’d been speeding. I see it in my kids as they struggle to back down in an argument and admit they made a mistake, as they choke on the word sorry and tell everyone they’re idiots rather than admit they’re the one with a problem.
You see it all over the world as it escalates into threats and bombings, wars and worse as people back themselves into a corner and only know how to come out fighting.
The more I’ve thought about it, the more I’m glad I got caught speeding. Partly because it has, in honesty, given me a bit of a kick to improve my driving but mostly because it made me model owning up and taking the consequences to my kids.
As a parent and actually as a teacher, it can be so easy to wrap our identity up in being right. We mistake leadership for always knowing what we are doing. We confuse authority with infallibility. Mistakes are seen as failure and apologies as weakness.
But over the years, I’ve come to realise that “sorry” is one of the most powerful words in the English language. I’m not talking about tight, forced sorrys or a sarcastic sorry thrown around by a stroppy teenager, I’m talking full on, ‘I’m so sorry, I should never have done that’ sorrys. The type you mean.
That kind of a sorry diffuses tension, ends feuds and heals relationships and it’s a gift. A gift I want to pass on to my girls. I want them to grow up knowing how to learn by their mistakes, not just cover them up, I want them to mature as women who take responsibility for their actions and their words and who allow God in to hone them into the gems they were created to become.
I want to raise children who are prepared to let other people see God at work in them and let their sorry be witness to it. Apology evangelism; maybe it will catch on.
Maybe not – but I’m going to keep doing it anyway. I’m going to apologise to my kids when I’m grumpy because I’ve had a bad day, I’m going to admit it when I get things wrong and, here’s the big one, I’m going to actually concede the point when my husband is right in an argument. But don’t tell him, I’m not sure he’s ready for the shock!