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111. Apologizing; the Use and Abuse of 'Sorry'

Updated: Jan 24, 2023

We live in a time of unprecedented change, affecting our values, our culture, our terminology; even our most personal exchanges such as saying 'sorry'. The earliest account of the term 'apology' is 4th century B.C. Plato's Apology. This dealt with the trial of Socrates who answered his accusers with a brief history of his life and moral commitment, to convey an understanding of his circumstances. Today's use of the apology often overlooks this important aspect of MUTUAL UNDERSTANDING. Saying “sorry' is a quick way to achieve smooth interactions, but meaningless if it is insincere and lacks understanding of the real concerns of the offended party. The broader definition of the term 'sorry' in refrains from being judgemental and is more compassionate. It includes expressing regret, sympathy, pity, eg.: to be sorry to leave one's friends; to be sorry for a remark; to be sorry for someone in trouble, for a regrettable or deplorable action. ( Apologies are culturally and even legally defined. One cynic observed of the word 'sorry' that "Americans do not say it, the British do not mean it and Canadians overdo it"... In Canada the term "I'm sorry" does not assume guilt – to the extent that the country even created an Apology Act to protect individuals from legal suit! Apologizing is seen as a virtue in Japan and is often coupled with a bow. The more sorry you feel, the deeper you bow. In Brazil, the best way to apologize is by giving a small gift accompanied by a note of apology. Depending on the type of apology you want to convey, there are multiple ways to say sorry in China. The phrase "yi han" is used to express regret or pity. An example is if you have to turn down an invitation or deliver bad news. ( It is also influenced by gender. American Karina Schumann, a psychologist and expert in the use and abuse of “sorry', discovered that men have a higher moral threshold for offensive behaviour than women, and so they apologize less frequently, and rarely for the little things. Nearly 20 centuries after Plato, the few references to 'sorry' and 'apology' in the Bahai Writings attribute to it only a minor value. One rare reference to apology is the example of a learned early believer who arose to defend the newborn Faith, refuting the arguments of opponents, and exposing their odious deeds. Otherwise it is occasionally used as in 'He was sorry to learn of..' or 'In a sorry plight', 'a sorry spectacle'. The Baha'i practice is quite different from current usage. Whilst the principle of justice is supreme in Bahai Teachings, it is achieved through the 'art' of consultation and requires us to avoid criticism of others, abstaining from the tendency to blame or take offence. Of course we are always free to express our own disappointment or remorse for our actions but this expression comes freely and sincerely, is not a response to social expectation. Its purpose is to foster mutual understanding. All our actions must reflect the keynote of the Faith which is Unity. Bahá’u’lláh has established consultation as one of the fundamental principles of His Faith, exhorting us to “take counsel together in all matters”, describing it as “the lamp of guidance which leadeth the way” and “the bestower of understanding.”---Baha'u'llah, Kitab-i-Aqdas 52. Whenever we as parent, teacher, friend or partner experience a situation in which we feel blaming or critical of another, our response should be to prayerfully call ourselves to account, to review our own actions and if still necessary, to seek an opportunity for loving consultation. "You must consider your enemies as your friends, look upon your evil-wishers as your well-wishers and treat them accordingly. Act in such a way that your heart may be free from hatred. Let not your heart be offended with anyone. If someone commits an error and wrong toward you, you must instantly forgive him. Do not complain of others". ---Abdu'l-Baha, Promulgation of Universal Peace – 134 " Perhaps the greatest test Bahá’ís are ever subjected to is from each other; but for the sake of the Master they should be ever ready to overlook each other’s mistakes, apologize for harsh words they have uttered, forgive and forget. He strongly recommends to you this course of action."


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