There are social standards that exist below usual awareness, automatic responses to statements that we declare with a flippancy that is consonant with the inquiry. We greet each other with “how are you?” but get surprised when the other person actually answers with anything more complicated than “good,” and often even that simple answer we rarely wait around to hear. This is not a condemnation of social etiquette or a lament at the communication standards of social relationships. There are a great many variables involved in relational short-cuts as we steadily evolve in a world of left-clicking to bring up more information quickly. Rather, the issue is more a concern with those standards that affect us at a level deeper than mere social surfaces; where the “how are you?” question seen often as a standard greeting is rather felt to be a genuine question. The result is an emotional distance from any real inquiry and a placid acceptance of the status-quo. This is what I reference as soft tyranny, where to buck the system and declare such questions as disingenuous labels you a trouble-maker.
Declaring “I’m sorry” is of a similar type, where the social pressure is incumbent upon the recipient to placidly accept, disregarding any and all context. I’m reminded of children who are told by their parents to say “I’m sorry” and the child in a fit of insolent insincerity mumbles a barely coherent apology. The words have taken on a power beyond context, the result being if someone noted the clear insincerity of the child then such someone would find themselves the object of rebuke rather than it being acknowledged the words are meaningless. This act of magical thinking and subsequent social obfuscation leaves the person declaring “I’m sorry” in a realm outside of real consequence and need for change. There can be some understanding here that in children it may be difficult, depending on the age, for them to be capable of empathically understanding the other person sufficiently enough to warrant an introspection leading to a genuine declaration of apology. That this practice continues into adulthood, however, indicates a greater problem.
Let’s be honest, it simply takes work to feel a genuine apologetic stance. It’s difficult, it’s emotionally strenuous, it requires the person to be not only willing but capable of introspectively noting their false behavior, the notions that were used to rationalize it and then possess an energy to change subsequent behavior. An apology is, in the end, far more about the person declaring it than about the person receiving it. The flip-side of this is forgiveness, where such is far more about the person feeling that emotional space than about the other accepting it. We do not forgive others so much as we no longer accept the hurt that was inferentially caused by them. So then we do not apologize to others so much as we no longer accept and practice the inner personal delusions that led us to the behavior of said causal-hurt.
Thus it is that we look upon apologies with an eye towards whether said apology indicates a change in the person or whether they are resting on the soft tyranny of socially mandated impotent acceptance. We can see the difference in the person who with a giggle or a laugh, relying more on a be-sparkled personality says “I’m sorry,” but makes no attempt at amends, continues with the same delusions and changes none of their behavior. The apology takes on a disingenuous character reminiscent of that child being punished by their parent, the only difference is that instead of a face of frustrated suffering there’s a smile. Ironically it is the recipient of said empty apology who must take on the look of frustrated acceptance. How often has it been experienced that when confronted over the emptiness, the person responds with “but I said I’m sorry! why don’t you get over it?”? This is the declaration of a person who has more interest in control than of change, though certainly there still even here exists a tell-tale truth concerning forgiveness.
The weight of an apology rests not on the shoulders of the person receiving it, but on the person declaring it. The introspective energy required to do so genuinely indicates not a desire for perfection, we are gloriously human remember, but a willingness to amend a situation that went awry. We do not follow the greatest potential of our humanity by merely recognizing the delusions we believe, but by actively working to change them and therefore the behavior which results. That is the power found in a genuine apology and that is why we look for more than just words, but action to show they have real meaning.
© David Teachout
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