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Once a friend of mine told me he had problems with the expression “I’m sorry”. We talked and figured out that came from way back when he was a little kid and his mother made him apologize for something he was convinced was not wrong. His resentment remained with him forever (six decades). His mother, probably well meaning, robbed him of something extremely important: learning how to dive into his own soul, face his faults with courage and come back with a true apology.
Apologizing is not easy and unfortunately this is not taught at school, at church or in families. Rather, the widespread acceptance of fake apologies is the rule. Just performing the ritual and saying “I’m sorry” is enough.
Well, it is not. There are different situations in which you can wrong or hurt people. You can do it accidentally. Say you are in the subway, standing and holding on to something. The train stops and you step back for balance. You unwillingly step on a lady’s foot and it hurts: you can see it on her face. You are very sad that you caused pain to this stranger, you hold her arm to help her and you say “I’m sorry, ma’am”. In this case, the full text is much more “I am sorry this accident happened” then “I am sorry my inattention or clumsiness caused you pain”. You are sorry for her pain – there is no guilt involved. You actually didn’t do anything: you basically fell on her.
But if you have a responsibility, fail to do your duty and, with this, you hurt someone, damage property or otherwise wrong other people, then you need to come forward, verbalize your wrong acts, the reason why they took place, acknowledge your faults by describing them, which usually involves horrible things to see in yourself, such as pride, laziness, self-centeredness, immaturity, lack of concern for others, failure to understand ethic codes and more.
In other words, when you truly fail other people, the only way not to lose your honor forever is to make a full inventory of why you screwed up and do your best to make amends. Yes: you need to take action in order to show you actually mean to do something in order to restore the victim’s respect for you. Moreover, you may never screwup in that specific way again. Never. Ever. You will screwup in other things: that’s human nature. But when you seriously harm other people, you don’t get to have a second chance on that issue. You burned that one.
I had the unpleasant experience – not the first, not the last – of having people with or without serious character flaws (I am still not sure how bad the character flaws are, only that they are character flaws) screwup with me this past weekend. Not out of malice, like the enemies I (and most of you, I am sure) have. Out of their character flaws. But the damage was extremely serious and the acts almost or totally unforgivable.
Their response was: “Hey, sorry pal, my bad”. Right. My response to that: this is not an apology, whatever it is it is not accepted and very soon you will understand what it means to be on my bad side. It is to lose, forever, whatever you could learn or get from me, since I am pretty sure their relationship with me is merely instrumental.
There are a few lessons to learn there. If they do fail to take the step into the unknown and dive into the horrors of their own flaws, which we all have, their honor is gone. From here, it is a downhill slide into letting go one by one the weak links that tied them to an honorable perspective and position in society, in the sport and in the professions.
Am I sorry for them? Not really. I’ve seen dozens of them. They build nothing and they make no positive difference in whatever they do. In one year I will have forgotten their names. But they will not forget mine.
Inner strength and minimalism
I think the one thing I learned (in one of those “a-ha” moments) with Eric was minimalism. That most of the things we have are absolutely disposable. That even some we consider essential are not. That even parts of ourselves can be given up. And when most of what we are is damaged, lost or changed, there are two options: we die, because we cease to exist to ourselves without those items. Or we live, because there, untouched and unblemished, is true inner strength. Its light is almost blinding. But before that can happen, your loved ones die; every bone in your body is broken; you’re beaten to a pulp by life; your skin, nails and teeth are ripped off and lost; your friends are lost; your home is lost. Very few survive this. Those who do make it possible to write Human with a capital H and Man with a capital M.