mi dispiace, i apologize, i’m sorry. was that so hard?

When my brothers and I were little and we’d argue, my mamma would usually have us work it out ourselves. If we couldn’t, we’d bring the injustice to our beneficent, definitive adjudicator and her judgment was routinely the same: listen to each other, say sorry, then kiss and make up. Yes, kiss. It’s thorny having to kiss someone if you aren’t really sorry.

Apologies: we need them not because we’re coming from a prideful place, or we want someone to grovel or feel shame, or because we’re blaming, but as an assurance that our hurt is understood, acknowledged and thereby create a lessened chance for repetition.

Saying, “I’m sorry,” doesn’t have to mean you agree; but it does mean you recognize the other’s wound as valid. This should be mandatory in raising children if you want to develop their empathetic side. Having empathy for another’s suffering is essential to a functioning society. Just observe the “compassionate” side of conservatives to see what self-righteousness spawns.

Someone said to me recently that you can’t ask for an apology because when s/he gives you one it won’t be real. Huh? That would just be passive aggressive agreeing, and how sad is that? If it’s not sincere, it’s not an apology, is it? And does he really think most of us over the age of six can’t tell the difference?

Asking for what you need is key to getting it.

If you request an apology, an understanding and your friend/family member refuses to give you one, then the message you’ll be getting is that “being right” is more important than resolution, more important than you. Who wants a relationship with a person that doesn’t care about your feelings, no matter who they are? Life is hard enough without others who won’t speak straight or act like adults when in conflict practicing smug contention.

When I was five, I rushed in the back door, my hard plastic headband—you know the ones with those sharp spikes inside—snapped in half dangling from my little fingers and burst out half sobbing, “You’re wrong, Mom! It’s not fair! It’s not FAIR!” My mamma’s first instinct was always to meet me and my emotions first, only later, when I was calmer, coaching me on my presentation.

“Mary hit me on my head, broke my favorite red headband,” I said holding the two pieces out, “and it hurt. And because you said to put myself in the other person’s place I couldn’t hit her back,” I shout-wept. “IT’S NOT FAIR!”

My mamma held me as I cried, said that I’d done well but—she was sad to tell me—life isn’t fair. I remember my response vividly as I moved back to stare at the blurry image of her through my tears, “Well, it should be.”

I still feel like that. I’ve stated that when I die, I want my ashes buried, then crowned with a wide-winged gravestone that will read: IT’S THE PRINCIPLE OF THE THING.

2 thoughts on “mi dispiace, i apologize, i’m sorry. was that so hard?

  1. I agree with this rant. Thanks for writing it. We need more accountability in America today. Apologies, confessionals, come-to-Jesus meetings, whatever we name them, are essential to passing through life with clean consciences. Such cleanliness breeds a culture of greater accountability that seems so often to be lacking today.

    Joe Paterno just died, the aged coach for Penn State football. He died just weeks after being fired, following 40-some years of service. He got fired because he did not take swift and decisive action when he received a report that one of his staff had been seen sexually abusing an 11-year-old boy in the showers. He did not take swift and decisive action, he claimed, because he was uncertain on the legality of firing a member of his coaching staff. After Paterno himself was fired, he refused to offer that key mea culpa that might have turned public opinion back in his favor. He stuck to his guns. Then he died. If humans are at their core moral animals, then he was betraying his core, which might have been the cause of his death: his self-betrayal.


  2. I agree about Paterno (and I like what your said about his self-betrayal). I’ve often thought similar about many of our politicians. In the past, when officials in other countries, especially Japan, were found out, there wasn’t a lot of back pedaling and finger pointing. And lately, when that Italian captain capsized his luxury liner, he owned up immediately with apologies.

    Our society really needs some honesty in action. One of the main things I taught my kids as they were growing up: if you throw a rock, don’t hide your hand. If they threw one, they must have a good reason–regardless of whether or not I agreed–and they should stand behind it.


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