I have been reflecting on the nature of humility for some time now. As a fairly proud individual, it’s not something that comes naturally to me.
I’m sure we can all think of occasions where an apology was deserved, but never received. Or maybe we were the ones at fault, but have avoided taking responsibility and making amends.
Perhaps that’s because it is genuinely difficult to admit when we are wrong, but I also think the language that surrounds giving and receiving an apology can be uncomfortable.
In my earlier sentence I deliberately chose not to write ‘where an apology was owed’. I know what it is to burn with self-righteous indignation at not receiving an apology I felt I was owed. But- unsurprisingly – the power of my indignation has not been enough to elicit even the smallest act of compassion or contrition.
That’s not to say I didn’t deserve an apology in instances where I have been treated with disrespect, but the sense of entitlement I felt did very little to induce any apology.
That was a humbling experience for me – but only after I began to examine my own behaviour instead of others’.
Self-awareness and reflection are not easy or appealing. Pride overshadows both of these in the form of deflecting, punishing, denying or ignoring. They are the responses we most often reach for when we have been hurt or when we are ashamed about not living up to our ideal selves. We don’t want to shine a light on our weaknesses and faults, so we cover them up by withdrawing or acting out.
As a consequence, our language becomes less humble and more defensive. The trouble with this is that it adds an extra layer of pain and shame to all involved; so instead of providing a solution to one problem, we have actively created another.
Language is also the key to quasi-apologies such as ‘I didn’t mean hurt you’ or ‘I’m sorry you feel that way’. These are usually offered in earnest, and may be better than nothing at all, but they are still missing that most crucial part of any sincere apology; accepting responsibility.
It should be said though, that accepting responsibility for wrongs done in the past means accepting responsibility for not repeating them in the future. And this is where language ceases to be important and actions take over. The constant presence, however, is humility. This is what allows us to empathise with those we have hurt or move past the apologies that never came.