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A recent event got me thinking about apologies. Apologies can be a lot of things. Some people seem to apologize for living, using it as a form of social lubrication like “Please” and “Thank you.” They pass apologies out without thought like one might shake pepper onto eggs. These apologies might be sincere, but neither deeply thought about, nor long remembered. They are the accidental-stepping-on-your-foot apologies: “So sorry! I can be terribly clumsy.” Or they are the apologies for the vagaries of life: “So sorry it rained.” or “So sorry you didn’t enjoy the movie.”
Others might use apologies as a peace offering. The spouse is in an uproar over something? Let’s try to ratchet down the temperature. What’s that I’m supposed to say to do this? Oh, yeah, “I’m sorry, dear. It’s all my fault.” Some such apologies might be sincere, but I’m betting most are not. They are sincere peace offerings, but not sincere apologies. Not many people are going to be willing to sustain a long-term state of war over small things that don’t matter to them that much, and if a little lie helps get things moving again, they’ll do it.
Then there are the coerced apologies. We see these all the time now that the little platoons of civilization have given way to the mobs of destruction. Of course, they were always out there before, too. The teacher or the boss who wanted peace within his domain demanded the perceived miscreants apologize and shake hands and get back to work. The problem is that these apologies are seldom sincere, and even more seldom believed. They are the confessions at the show trials. These are instant apologies that have not had time enough to percolate. They haven’t had time to develop, to sprout from a real seed of remorse, to reach for the sun of forgiveness. If one accidentally steps on another person’s foot, an instant apology is fine. But if someone really hurts another, not just a temporary pain like that foot step, but emotional trauma or psychological harm, an instant apology is not going to cut it. To the instant apologizer, I say, “Go out in the wilderness and contemplate your sins.”
This is why those who demand apologies, especially on behalf of others, are wrong. They are encouraging insincerity. They are also hardening the hearts of those they are demanding apologies from. Inside, the person being attacked by the apology brigade might be saying, “I’m right. It’s the other guy who’s wrong and needs to apologize. The only apology you’ll get is, ‘And the horse you rode in on, pal!’” But maybe this person mouths or types the words of an apology out of social lubrication reasons or fear of the mob or the boss or whomever. It’s all a show for the outer world. But inside, he knows he was right all along. Now, he is the one who is wronged. The wound festers. It doesn’t matter if he really was in the wrong or being obtuse. The scenario is shifted in his mind. He may never mention it again, but he remembers what the demanders did to him and how they made him lie and break his integrity with their bullying. And he was right all along! At least in his own mind.
It’s alright to point out that what someone said or did might not have come from their best or highest self. But don’t corner a scared or angry rat with your words. Don’t make that person the victim, even if only in their minds, by your actions. Of course, the old dictum of “Know your audience” always applies. Among my friends, a gentle chastisement of this sort might be, “Smooth move, rock head.” Of course, we probably wouldn’t say “smooth” or be as polite as “rock head,” but you get the gist. It expresses dismay at the action without demanding action or otherwise cornering the person who did it.
As I said above, real apologies need time to develop, to sprout from a seed of remorse, to reach for the sun of forgiveness. That is because real and sincere apologies stem from change, and people do not change instantly. They do not spin around on a dime from being fallen humans to being perfect angels. Change takes time and rumination. I know I personally would rather have a well-thought out and sincere apology two weeks after the fact than a coerced and insincere instant apology. For that matter, I would take the well-thought out and sincere apology ten years later. People do change, but they seldom change instantly. People can recognize their mistakes and learn from them, but seldom instantly.
If we’re going to demand anything, let us not demand apologies. Let us demand integrity, healing, and change. All of these take time.
G-d bless.Published in