ON BEING SORRY           

In my maturity, I’ve never really understood those people who find it almost impossible to admit they are in the wrong.   What angel of perfection amongst us is never wrong, and what a pretentious bore he must be.   Admitting you’re wrong about one thing and saying sorry does not mean that the 99 other things you said are not correct.


My memories of myself as a young person are not always edifying.   When I was at High School, people who brought their own lunch could sit in a classroom and consume it but when they had eaten they were supposed to go outside.   I have no idea why.   It was pretty cold in Scottish winters.   Anyway, I walked a long way to school,  I was very thin and had absolutely no need of further exercise,  I was often tired, so I just used to sit in an obscure corner and read my book or do my homework, and never look up and generally the teacher would leave me alone.


One day it was a prefect who came to hose us out, a thin faced spotty boy who exercised his petty authority  rather zealously.   The room was full, and he came to send us out.         “And you too, Missy,” he said to me.   “The rules apply to you just like everyone else.”    I was annoyed and I argued with him.          I pointed out there was no damage to school property;  it was freezing outside;   some of us were doing our homework.    He said it was the Rules.   I said, So?   The time has come to change them.   You, instead of upholding petty authority, should be making a case for why we should stay in.   The school bully observed:   He couldn’t do that.    He hasn’t the wit.   Even a lassie can out-argue him.      The prefect summoned back up and ejected us.   He then reported me to the Lady Advisor (but not, I noted, the Bully.)


The Lady Advisor summoned me.    She was a brisk, sensible woman.   I had never crossed swords with her.    He had complained of my rudeness and I would have to apologise.  I asked if he had complained about  the bully, pointing out that he had been personally insulting, whereas I had remained polite.     He had said that the bully only  threw in his 2d worth because I had argued in the first place.   I considered.   I wasn’t in the least bit sorry.   But I did not want to fall out with the Lady Advisor whom you needed in your corner if you ever had difficulties with male teachers (not that I ever did ).    She was, as I said, a sensible woman, and she now made an observation which made me think.   “You are very able,” she told me,    “but there are some fights you won’t win.   This is one of them.   I give you three days to apologise to him;  he will come and tell me when you have done so.   Then this incident will be closed.”     She looked at me.   “You are too smart not to see the sense of this.”   Then she dismissed me.


I was not pleased.   I despised the goody-two shoes prefect.   He hadn’t got  the personal authority or aggression to handle a situation which if he’d any wit he’d have left well alone.  Plus we now faced weeks of freezing hours waiting to get back into school.   However, I would face worse consequences if I persisted.   If they consulted my parents, my father would vociferously support me, but this was never entirely helpful.    I decided I’d have to bite the bullet.    But I thought, I may not win with  the Lady Advisor, but I’ll make this guy sorry he ever set eyes on me.


So I waited until the third day (might as well keep everybody waiting), and then I hailed the prefect on the main stairs, where we could be seen by many people but wouldn’t be overheard.   I had decided I would enact the most gracious apology I possibly could, as if I were an actress in the role of apologist.     I smiled and called him by his name.   I said how I’d had an interview with the Lady Advisor and I’d been reflecting on what she had said, and I had come to apologise to him for challenging him in his enforcement of the school rules.  I said obviously as a prefect it was his job to do so and I should have been supporting him in that instead of raising difficulties.   I was very sorry I had caused trouble and hoped he hadn’t had to waste too much time and energy on it;  and I would comply in the future.   He was extremely surprised (as well he might be, poor chap he was entirely without guile), but he was gracious;  said he understood it was cold outside, but exercise was good for one, and no it hadn’t been any trouble and he was glad the incident was now over.


I was careful to let some time elapse before I began to smile on him, and I only revealed the sweet and charming aspects of my nature, and I agreed with all his platitudes.   I was careful to ensure that he made all the running:  I was just always thrilled that he had honoured me with his presence.    When he asked me out, I refused with cold disdain, and I walked away and never spoke with him again.


But this guy, for all his lack of cunning, taught me a lesson I have never forgotten.   He was so shocked and surprised that all his distress showed, and for the first time in the whole episode I was genuinely sorry.     I do not know if he was quick enough to understand the link between the earlier incident  and my later behaviour.     He had been over zealous, and he had been unkind – he did not care that we would have to stamp our feet outside;  and he had been petty in running to the authority to force me to comply and acknowledge his position: but what he had done was all trivial and he had not thought much about it.    I on the other hand had acted with malice;  I had entrapped this unworthy opponent;  I had deceived him with deliberate intent for weeks with the sole purpose of revenge, and the hurt I had inflicted was out of all proportion to his original offence.   I was just annoyed, initially;  whereas he was wounded.    Also this time he could not run to the Lady Advisor and complain I had not treated him as he deserved.     I had behaved in a manner unbecoming to a lady, and my behaviour was much worse than his had been.  I was ashamed of myself.


There was no way I could make amends to him.   Explaining was not my style and besides I doubted if it would make him feel better.   I had intended to make a fool of him in public;   however I did not tell a soul about it;  and when people complained about him after that, I always dismissed his pettinesses as the trivialities they were and said he wasn’t really a bad fellow.     I’m sure he just thought I was a spiteful cow and I can’t really blame him.


Being sorry means you recognise the hurt you’ve caused, and if possible you will do something to alleviate it, and that you are prepared to bear the costs of doing so.


The Tony Blair school of Being Sorry (Look, let me make this quite clear.   I mean, yes of course I’m sorry that people died, but I did what I believed to be right, and we should move on now and not talk about this any more and no penalty accrue to me) is not being sorry at all.


Truthfulness means you are prepared to admit to yourself that you did wrong.   Integrity means that you are prepared to admit to anyone you affected that you were in error.    Love means always being prepared to be sorry.     Being sorry also means you don’t do it again.

About adhocannie
I am a good natured woman with a long memory and a swift tongue. I like loooking at things and thinking about them. Also food, clothes, travel, reading, sewing. I try to see the ridiculous in things, but sobriety of reflection keeps edgting in. I have husband, children, grandchildren, friends... I feel rich in things that matter. I am a happy exile. I like writing. I do not like talking about me (though I do.). You willl be much more interesting.

4 Responses to BEING SORRY

  1. Sheena says:

    Timely words of wisdom!

  2. adhocannie says:

    Well, none of us is perfect. That Lady Advisor was a clever and a wise woman. I also argued with her that the rule was unfair; that he had undermined his position by coming squealing to her; that he hadn’t complained about the bully because he was afraid of him; and that though I had objected I had complied, we were entitled to free speech etc etc. She listened, she didn’t get annoyed, and she didn’t enter into any discussion. She didn’t lecture me either (none of the I’m-so-disappointed-in-you crap, to which I’d just have thought, I’m not asking for your approval) and she treated me seriously. I presume she also thought the guy was a pratt but he had appealed to her to uphold his position and she must do so. Actually, what she instructed was the minimum she could possibly have done – she didn’t make me apologise in front of witnesses and no other penalty was imposed on me (though I didn’t see it like that at the time.) I did however admire her handling of the interview and I still occasionally remember her justice and firmly professional manner when I have need of these qualities. So, teachers, however surly and disagreeable pupils may appear, behave with professional dignity and fairness and you may still be a role model for them decades after when you’ve long forgotten the trifling incident.

  3. Evelyn says:

    I am trying to think who it was that said revenge was a dish best eaten cold!

  4. adhocannie says:

    I tend to think it was Oscar WIlde, but then any quote that isn’t known, is generally attributed to him!

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