92. Apologies

Life is partly having to say you’re sorry. I’m sorry, but it is. So is love. Sometimes we do things we don’t mean to do, or things we mean to do that have effects we don’t mean to have, and someone else is hurt, annoyed, embarrassed, angered – someone wishes we hadn’t done it. Sometimes we aren’t sorry, and we are free to not apologize. Other times, we have to apologize whether we feel sorry or not. And there are people who never apologize. Some claim they don’t regret anything they’ve ever done, but I don’t believe it.
Many children feel sorry for things they’ve done, and need to learn how to apologize. I believe that modelling is the only effective way to teach them. I think they need to see us apologize for things we do or say that have effects we don’t mean to have.
Someone I know and respect disagrees with me on this point, and I don’t want to continue arguing my case until I have summarized her point of view. She says that apologizing, and knowing when to apologize, are skills that some children must learn through instruction – that modelling is important and effective, but not sufficient for some children. Some children, after doing or saying something hurtful, need to be told to say “I’m sorry.” They don’t know when that’s an appropriate thing to say, so they have to be made to say it.
I hope I’ve done justice to this point of view. As I said, I disagree with it. I think children start out knowing their own feelings, and in our culture, they gradually lose touch. They are given all kinds of messages by adults that say, in effect, “You don’t feel what you think you feel. You feel what I say you feel.” Told this by the primary adults in their lives, they begin to believe it.
So when a child is told, “Say you’re sorry,” the child may think, “But I don’t think I’m sorry. I am being told to say something that I don’t think is true.” It’s a dilemma. Usually, there doesn’t seem to be any choice, and the child says the required lie.
When I see that a child has hurt another child, I do insist on facing the issue. I ask whether the hurt was intentional. If it was, I explore the issue further, hoping to uncover some misunderstanding. If it was unintentional, or if the intention has changed since the incident, I talk about the importance of apology. But I never force a child to apologize. I may be wrong about this. What do you think?

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