A while back I listened to the 99% Invisible Podcast Episode #95: Future Screens are Mostly Blue, and was introduced to the term apologetics. Apologetics as described in the show notes for the episode is the closing of logical loopholes, typically in theology, which means that apologetics is the act of explaining and rationalizing inconsistencies that occur in religious scripture. At least, that is where apologetics originated. In the podcast episode two guys who wrote a book to explain why certain technologies are used in sci-fi movies apply apologetics to parts of movies that don’t seem to make sense. This idea is something my friends and I engage in all the time. Think of the Marvel Movies with Iron Man and Captain America doing all kinds of crazy things that may defy physics or involve futuristic technologies. When you watch the movies 500 times like me, you pick up on little parts that don’t exactly make sense, but give you the chance to create your own explanation for why in the future these things would happen. This is the type of apologetics that was discussed in the episode. The two guys used apologetics to project why future technologies may develop in certain ways. By looking at possible background and unexpressed situations they can see if there is a cultural reason for those types of technologies to actually develop in the real world, or if the technologies may be useful in the real future.
None of this really seemed to apply to me, my work, or really anything in the business world, until one day when I was reflecting on my work. I started to look back at how the day had gone, and realized that I was making excuses and rationalizing the way I treated certain co-workers, acted when customers were in the store, and approached certain tasks. This pattern continued for some time as I reflected on my behaviors and attitudes in the work place or in my social life. In some of my reflections I was more honest with myself than in other reflections, and sometimes I felt as though I was deliberately changing my recollection of the situation to fit an ideal self-image. I eventually came to the conclusion that apologetics was not something limited to fantasy or scripture, but something we all have the capacity to use in our daily lives. At work and in self-reflection apologetics becomes excuses for our attitudes, performances, errors, and shortcomings. It allows us to rationalize behavior or actions that are inconsistent with how we want to see ourselves.
When we reflect on our day or our performance it is hard to admit that we made a mistake, failed to treat someone with respect, or were lazy. It is easier and more satisfying to look at those negative moments and shift the blame elsewhere. Perhaps we were being lazy at work because we had a busy morning and didn’t sleep well, so we could not have been expected to work hard. Or maybe the reason we treated a co-worker with a lack of respect was not our fault, but theirs for not being a better person and earning our respect. These rationalizations take the blame for poor actions and judgments away from us, and shift it to others. It is a poor use of apologetics that works to hide the painful truth that our self-image is false. By avoiding apologetics at work and in our self-reflections we can be more honest with ourselves, and find ways to improve our actions and behaviors. Rather than make excuses with apologetics, look at your shortcomings and write down ways in which you can improve yourself without allowing for excuses.