Apologies come from the urge to express remorse. It is a gift of sympathy we offer to those scorned, hurt or grieving – even when we are the cause of pain. Sometimes, however, apologies take the form of a ritualistic incantation – prayers, of sorts – but with no emotional or spiritual backing. In these instances apologies are nothing more than a self-serving execution of the words “I’m sorry.”
The kindest of people slip up and hurt others with words and actions. I am often thoughtless and abrasive and find myself apologizing more often than I would like. Sometimes I learn; sometimes I do not. The remorse I feel often stems from having said something that was wrong, at the wrong time, or simply because it wasn’t my place to open my big mouth. In the time that follows these instances I feel bad – to put it simply. It is a mixture of guilt and repentance for having hurt someone, and embarrassment for taking up a role that wasn’t mine to have, and for having worn a role poorly. When I apologize it stems from the need to comfort the person I’ve hurt and to offer a means of rectifying the pain inflicted. It is never about forgiveness. This isn’t to say that forgiveness may not come, but having forgiveness as a goal undermines the nature of expressing regret. Knowing forgiveness will be delivered easy makes for a lesser burden and an easier expression of sorrow, when sorrow should weigh true, the removal of which should bear matched and uninfluenced difficulty.
Quite often people apologize as a show for a higher force, begging God, or karma, to take notice of their apologetic sacrament. They hope that these mystical forces will take mercy on them, and that their punishment will be lessened. Sometimes in apologies you will find no apology at all, but rather a subtext of blame and rejection of accountability. This is the worst form of apologetic ritual because it is empty and selfish, and strives for no worldly resolution save the one occurring in the head of the repentant. It is the root of rationalizing hurtful actions.
Apology should come selflessly, as I said, for the person or people we have hurt. But, there is also a positive side-effect that comes from truly expressing remorse, whether that ends with or without forgiveness, within the person apologizing. When we apologize honestly and with true humility we become properly poised to change for the better, to see the err of our ways, and to move forward as a more thoughtful person so that when a similar situation arises we may deal with it better, with wiser sets of eyes and ears.
It feels odd to write about this subject, because I don’t know what anyone else feels or thinks when they express remorse. I find that what I have written here is true in theory, but difficult in its execution. True apology cannot merely be words. The words can only be a place holder, a reference on a timeline, so we can look back and see, from that moment on, if we have delivered quantifiable and positive change of character.