Wednesday, August 15, 2007

"I'm sorry" vs. "I'll never do it again"

I have a disembodied memory of an occasion where someone was apologizing for a wrong he had done, and the recipient of the apology said, "Don't be sorry, just don't do it again". Even then - it must have been years ago - something seemed wrong about this reasoning. I can't guarantee that I'll never do it again, but I can guarantee that I am sorry for what I have done. But the point was really driven home when I was watching the HBO series "Rome".

In it, an important and well loved political and millitary figure is assassinated. The assassin clearly respected the man he was killing, but his orders from the other side overrode that respect. As he drove the knife into the man's belly, he said to him with great sincerity, "I'm sorry sir".

Sometimes we do things that are beyond our control. Certainly we have the responsibility to control what we can, and not willingly do others wrong. And if we had total control of our actions, if we are truly sorry for what we did, we would not repeat the action. But since we do not, we should at least apologize.

And try not to do it again.


kisarita said...

sorry + doing it again aint good enough

whats better, not being sorry or not doing it again?

I think it's a misquestion; I don't think there can be a not doing it again; without a sorry first.

but a sorry alone I guess is better than nothing

kisarita said...

what is sorry?
why does it matter if someone is sorry or not?

i have some theories-

-it satisfies our longing for justice; regret as a form of punishment (or the opposite- punishment is intended to bring about regret)

-it helps maintain emotional equilibrium- by his (her) assuming some of the balance of the pain, my pain is lessened.

-it helps us stop viewing the perpetrator as solely an aggressor

this is a specifically jewish (and possibly other) viewpoint. in the dominant christian view (dominant in some spheres anyhow) unconditional forgiveness is the ideal. i have been wondering about that a lot.

Dave the Philosopher said...

Another theory may be this:
An apology is a display of humility, a lowering of pride, without the denial of one's human agency. It's not that I couldn't have helped it; indeed, I admit that I have the responsibility to avoid such action, and that I did not uphold this responsibility when I violated you.

When one avoids apologizing, one either denies one's agency, thus one's responsibility (e.g.,"It's not my fault"), or fills with pride ("I was really right"). Both of these attitudes are subversive to self-actualization.

So what about the kind of case I wrote about in the blog, where I really do not have a choice in the matter? Would not saying you're sorry for these kinds of things be somewhat of a lie, since you are assuming responsibility for something you did not have the agency to prevent? I would say not so, because even when you do not have the agency to prevent this wrongful act you still have agency in general as a human being. Even when your will has no say in the matter, we don't want people to lose their sense of will in general.

Even if I'm doing an inhuman act in defiance to my will, I don't want to thereby become inhuman.

This assumes that human development is an important goal to live for.