I was taught to apologize at a young age.
Call someone stupid? Say you’re sorry.
Push someone down? Say you’re sorry.
Refuse to play with Obby because frankly, he smells like he was dipped in a bath of piss?
Say you’re sorry.
The way we apologize is interesting. When we say “I’m sorry”, what we really mean is “I don’t want to feel guilty anymore, and would appreciate it if you didn’t tell anyone what happened because I want people to think highly of me.”
In fact, most of the time, apologizing has absolutely nothing to do with the person we’ve actually offended. It’s pretty common for us to take the “I’m not apologizing, I did nothing wrong” stance.
It seems pretty obvious that selfishness and repentance are opposing ideas, but I’m not so sure the way we apologize is reflective of that. When we’re hurt, we don’t want reasons, explanations, or excuses. Most of the time, we don’t even want apologies; we want someone to know our pain.
In 3rd grade, I watched a lot of wrestling. I was also completely convinced my skull was indestructible. When I tapped on my forehead, it seemed pretty hard so I figured I had a metal plate in it like the mom from The Adventures of Pete & Pete. Consequentially, my signature move if I got into a brawl was the headbutt. I was really young and didn’t realize wrestling was fake, so I actually went around headbutting quite a few people. This might explain a lot about my brain.
In 3rd grade, I also had a huge crush on Laura Dickenson. She was Polish and had really pretty blonde hair and blue eyes. One day, this kid in my class named Kyle was picking on her/flirting with her. (This is the same thing in 3rd grade. Some of us grow out of it, others do not.) I decided to do something about it. I grabbed Kyle’s face, and I headbutted him as hard as I could.
If memory serves me right, (a shaky statement given my preferred fighting style) Laura instantly fell in love with me, jumped into my arms, and we rode off into the sunset on an ivory stallion.
Her actual reaction was probably something like this:
What I do know is that Kyle crumpled to the floor and started crying. It was at this point that I realized I messed up. In 3rd grade, you DO NOT make somebody cry. Because then they’re going to tell the teacher. And if they tell the teacher, then you’re in trouble. And the teacher will probably yell at you and then you’ll start crying too. Somewhere deep down, I also felt pretty guilty.
I started to panic, and tried to bribe Kyle with all my resources to not tell anyone.
“Hey Kyle, I’ll give you my best toy!”
“Hey Kyle, I’ll give you my cool folder with the car on it!”
“Hey Kyle, I’ll give you 38 cents!”
He eventually accepted some sort of combination of these in exchange for his silence, and I was granted immunity. I also told him I was sorry and he said it was OK.
I’ve come a long way since the 3rd grade. For the most part, I’ve stopped headbutting and bribing people. When I do hurt someone though, I’m not sure I’ve made a lot of progress in the way I try to fix the situation.
image by William Arthur