The Soft Tyranny of “I’m Sorry”
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. Rather, the issue is more a concern with those standards that affect us at a deeper level. We often learn to accept certain forms of social dialogue without looking at the dismissal of our own reactions that occurs in the process. The result is an emotional distance and a placid acceptance of the status-quo. This is what I reference as soft tyranny, where to buck the system and start asking for greater communication labels you a trouble-maker.
Power of Social Pressure
“I’m sorry” is one example, where the social pressure is 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. Sure, children may find it difficult, depending on the age, to be capable of empathically understanding the other person sufficiently enough to warrant the introspection leading to a genuine apology. However, that this practice continues into adulthood 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 noting their false behavior and the notions that were used to rationalize it and then possess an energy to change. An apology is, in the end, far more about the person declaring it than about the person receiving it. We do not apologize to others so much as we no longer accept and practice the inner personal false stories or narratives 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, 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. Adding insult to injury, social pressure has the recipient of said empty apology taking 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.
Where Being Sorry Begins
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.