Friday, September 27, 2019

Should She Accept Their Apologies?

Should you make amends to those you have wronged in the course of your life? 12 Step programs recommend that you do so. Up to a point, it's a good idea. And yet, it is not an absolute.

For my part I agree with New York Times Ethicist columnist Kwame Anthony Appiah… to the effect that there is a statute of limitations on apologies. If the apology does not accomplish a purpose, if it does not repair a relationship that you have damaged, if it only brings up old pains… you should forgo it.

Consider Appiah’s view in the light of this letter, sent to Miss Manners. I am presenting it for what it tells us about the state of mind of an abuse victim, a woman who was mercilessly bullied as a schoolgirl. Now, she has reached middle age and has overcome the torments of her childhood. Apparently, she still lives in the same community and occasionally receives half-hearted apologies from those who abused her in the past.

And, she does not want to hear them. She believes that they serve no purpose. So she writes to Miss Manners to ask her advice. How can she dismiss expressions of regret without being rude?

I was generally not treated well during childhood. I was plain and was a very quiet, shy, bookish kid who simply would not fight back. I suffered brutal bullying — including serious physical abuse, mocking, name-calling and social isolation — at school, at home and in the neighborhood where I grew up. I was friendless and blamed for my lot by my family, rather than helped to manage things better.

Away from the stress and sadness of that life, I did blossom into a pretty young woman and, with the positive attention that won me, was able to put my unhappy past where it belonged — for the most part, anyway. I was able to learn the skills needed to get along in this world. Now that I'm middle-aged, people who know me describe me as sweet, kind, thoughtful, giving and polite, though still shy and quiet.

In my heart, I forgive the people who made things so difficult for me, but I have no wish to socialize with them, either.

Former classmates and neighbors approach me to sort of apologize for their past treatment of me, and to let me know how wonderful everyone from the old neighborhood is now. How do I politely make it understood that, while I hold no grudge, I am just not interested in reliving that pain?

The psycho world attaches a special curative power to reliving painful traumas. It is wrong. I have often noted, even in the previous post, that it is a bad idea to identify yourself by the traumatic pain you have suffered. The letter writer properly wants to put it all behind her. Miss Manners concurs and invites her to simply walk away from those who insist on offering half-hearted apologies. Receive it as a blank screen, as though it did not concern her.

She writes:

Politely acknowledge what your classmate or neighbor says without elaborating, responding, or showing either interest or anger. Then, before they can elaborate, excuse yourself — by crossing the room, not answering the follow-up email, or not friending them on social media — and go on with your new life.

Such gestures might well make the bully feel slightly better, even virtuous. But they are too little, offered too late. They can only cause more pain. The damage has been done. 

One might even believe that the people who bullied and abused this woman are merely doubling down on their abuse. They are making it more difficult for the victim to forget it all, to forget how they saw her in high school. And how they still see her. 

Time to move on, and to reject their false solicitude. 


Anonymous said...

I think the woman should hear the apology and when the speaker is done, ask the person “Feel better?” and walk away.

Anonymous said...


The best apology is possibly to stop doing the same things you now feel the need to apologize for.

Sam L. said...

I'm with Anon #1.