Till I was a 35-year-old when people were hurtful to me, I would go up to them and say “I am sorry”. They – thinking I was lonely and needed their company – would hurt me further, abusing me in more creative ways. At some point during that year it occurred to me that since they had been hurtful, they ought to be apologizing; not I. It was me who was then responsible for giving them the privilege of hurting me repeatedly, being mean to me.
As I sat with this demon within me – the one that forced me to apologize to those who were hurtful and mean solely because it could not bear the stony silence that followed a major disagreement and/or fight – trying to understand it and see what could be done with it, there came that stage when I would still say sorry in the hope that it would remind them that they had forgotten to apologize and needed to do so, in order for the relationship to continue. But they continued in their old way being abusive and taking me for granted.
So I sat some more with this demon within me who often made me appear as a weak and lonely being – both of which I was not (at least not at the age of 34). Something then changed some more within; for I started then to look at it from their point of view. I ended up feeling very sorry for them – first because they knew they had been hurtful, but were unwilling to accept it; and second because having refused to accept they’d been hurtful, they naturally would continue being hurtful for life.
So for some time after that I would say sorry to them, telling them I feel so sorry for you; but they – hardly paying attention to the change of words and intonation (since humans have this penchant for hearing but not listening) – continued in their abusive ways. At about the age of 35, realizing that this “sorrying” business was going to neither help the situation nor change their perception of me or their behavior toward me, I stopped myself from apologizing to those who needed to apologize to me.
Every time I allowed them to hurt me, I would instead send a silent apology to myself. Unwittingly, this was perhaps the best thing I could have done to myself; for it forced me to recognize the demons sitting within me – the ones that in the name of maintaining social and communal harmony put the power resident within out at the world’s doorstep.
And what of those that day in and day out indulged in being hurtful and abusive – not just to me, but to every individual who has the misfortune (or shall I say fortune?) to have crossed their path? Well, needless to say they continue that way, and I must say I feel sorry for them. For in watching their abusive tendencies I came to know my own as well; and in withdrawing the power I had given them over me, I slowly and gradually grew in my own inner strength – enough for me to continue to apologize to those I hurt; enough for me to save the privilege of apologizing to those who were hurtful to me.
Today at the age of close to 41, I know when I say “I am sorry” to someone, I actually mean I didn’t know something was hurtful to someone but also that now knowing something was hurtful to that other and caring enough for that other, I will not repeat the mistake; and I try my best not to.
It is after all a mistake only the first time; from the second time onwards it shows (a) lack of care for self and the other; (b) unwillingness to accept one has been hurtful and repair the mistake; and/or (c) willingly being hurtful because somehow one gains a sense of power over the other person.
The entire process of apologizing and forgiving is meaningful only when it is mutual. I have met many people who will repeatedly say sorry only to repeat the mistake…endlessly. They haven’t bothered to look at the demons within themselves – those demons that stop them from bearing responsibility, from healing and from growing.
In the company of many such people I have grown so much that I am no longer sorry they were a part of my life. So apologizing to them is out of the question. But I must say seeing the people they have ended up being I do feel very sorry for them; for underlying those personae in positions of power and authority are human beings who have made themselves so handicapped and weak that they need positions, titles, scholarly renown, etc. to cover their lack of care for their own selves.
And more than owing another an apology, they owe themselves a big one…