I recently received a sorry email from an individual who had, among other things, threatened to kick my fucking head in. As police were involved, I was pretty sure the apology was made more with potential court proceedings in mind, than as an expression of regret for threatening me with physical violence. It turned out I was right, and the sorry email was taken into account by the magistrate though its alleged author was still found guilty of intimidation. I write “alleged” because I found it very difficult to reconcile the language of the email with what I know of the offender.
I also recently wrote a sorry email to a pompous, arrogant medical specialist who refused to treat a patient because he (the pompous arrogant specialist) was engaged in a dispute with me. I wasn’t in the least bit sorry for what I’d said to the specialist and would say it again in a heartbeat, but he had me over a barrel. I apologised, and he agreed to treat the patient. Now that the treatment is over and we won’t be needing him again, I’m reporting him to the Health Care Complaints Commission. The contempt I continue to feel for that medical specialist and his pathetic need to make me say a sorry he knows damn well I don’t mean by refusing treatment to someone I love, is profound.
This is a rare situation in my adult life, when I’ve said I’m sorry when I’ve absolutely known I’m not. Sometimes I’ve said sorry, only to realise later I wasn’t and had simply reacted in the emotion of the moment, or because I was scared. Quite often I’ve had to apologise because I’ve been out of line. That’s never easy, but it’s a good thing to live with. Being bullied into apologies is not.
Letters threatening defamation action frequently include a demand for apology, usually public. What does this mean? It’s obvious that if an apology must be demanded, nobody is feeling especially sorry. If it is an attempt on the part of the offended person to bring humiliation down upon the offender it doesn’t work, because in my case I offer the apology feeling nothing but increased contempt.
The apology is, in these circumstances, a species of Pyrrhic victory. If I am to be bullied or blackmailed into saying I’m sorry, who is the loser? It’s not me, it’s the deluded twerp who believes they’ve achieved something by forcing me to say I’m sorry when I’m not.
There are times when one may apologise in full knowledge of one’s insincerity, in order to achieve a greater goal. I have no problem with this, it’s a matter of conscience and circumstance. There is, however, something very distasteful about those who attempt to bully and blackmail others into making apologies. The clue is, if you have to demand it, it probably isn’t authentic so why do you want it and what does it say about you, that you’re willing to settle for such insincerity?
When an apology is made from the heart, and with regret for an action, it is a precious thing. It is something to be treasured, and it can heal much. Forced apologies only devalue the authentic sorry. Yet it is such a central part of our social discourse to demand an apology, as if appearances are all that counts.
There’s currently someone in my life demanding an apology that I have no intention of offering. The cost to me will be high. I’ve spent many hours considering the best course of action. In this instance, I’ve decided the worst thing I can do for both of us is to allow this person to bully me into mouthing sorries I don’t mean, and I don’t feel are warranted. Indeed, the very fact that it is being demanded of me or else, tells me this relationship has nowhere much to go.
I want to treat the sorry with the respect it deserves. I want to honour the sorry, and only use it when I mean it. The sorry is a thing of great beauty, to be used sparingly and always with consideration and intention. It is a sad thing, to see the sorry reduced to a meaningless convention, used to blackmail, bully and humiliate. Is it too late to Respect the Sorry?