“I’m sorry”

While listening to a radio broadcast today, I witnessed an interviewee express the opinion that forgiveness requires the offending party to be “sorry”. If we look at what was actually said here, we could conclude that regret is means to the foundation for forgiveness. As children we are often taught that forgiveness follows when we say we are sorry. This has become so engrained in us that saying we are sorry is often equated with asking for forgiveness. But does my regret merit your forgiveness? Does my intent change how my actions affect you? If I intend to hurt you, does it hurt more than if I hurt you as the result of an accident? If I then regret hurting you, do you hurt less?

Perhaps it is empathy, my willingness to share in your pain, that enables you to feel more inclined to forgive me. My admitted pain as a result of your experience validates your feelings of pain. But why then is this validation required? Are you not confident that your pain is valid? Perhaps it is the product of a desired revenge. The Latin proverb says, “Revenge is a confession of pain” (http://thinkexist.com/quotation/revenge_is_a_confession_of/170302.html). But does another’s pain really make us feel better? If you are willing to empathize with me, expressing regret for the pain you’ve caused me, and I take solace in this, is it not hypocritical to wish pain upon you?

If saying we are sorry is not an expression of regret, but rather a request for forgiveness, then the requirement of the phrase “I am sorry” is not so much about the offending party’s pain, but more about his or her desire to make amends. Is my request for forgiveness required for me to be forgiven?

Let’s say you have hurt me. My anger or sorrow over you actions causes me pain. It would be beneficial for me to forgive you as means of relieving this pain. So would I need you to apologize for smashing my thumb with a hammer before I could seek medical help? Then why would I require any action on your part to relieve the pain I experience as a result of my interpretation of your actions? This latter pain isn’t even a direct result of your actions, but rather a result of my interpretation of your actions. Would I need you to apologize for my smashing my thumb before I could seek medical help?

It would seem the issue at the heart of this debate is one’s desire to protect oneself from future pain. If I know you feel regret for your actions, I can feel somewhat secure in the belief that you will be less likely to engage in similar actions in the future. This causes the actions that surround my forgiveness, the social interaction and familiarity, to feel safer. We can be ruled by one of two forces. Do we want to act in accordance with our fear of hurt or act out of love in spite of the potential for hurt? One path will cripple us. The other will empower us. But of course, you already know the path I’ve chosen.

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