Today on my lunch break I passed a woman talking loudly on her cell phone. She was obviously upset and she said into the phone, “You know what, I don’t care that she apologized, it doesn’t matter!”
We’ve all had that thought, haven’t we? You are hurt by someone, and they make the effort to apologize, but it really doesn’t make you feel any better. And even though you said, “Thank you” or “I accept your apology” it doesn’t change how mad or hurt or vengeful you feel about whatever prompted the apology. Sometimes (rarely, in my experience) an apology makes a big difference. Someone does a good job of showing remorse, pledges not to do it again, and you feel better. The situation seems to have been resolved. Those are good apologies, but they’re rare.
The reality is that whatever caused someone to need to apologize put some wrinkle in the relationship. And sometimes (often?) smoothing out that wrinkle is impossible. What’s done is done. If the wrinkle can be undone and is undone, then great, problem solved. But if it can’t, even the most sincere apology probably isn’t going to make much of a difference.
In the past couple of days apologies have been in the news, because the CEO of BP went before congress to apologize, but no one actually cared what he said, because the oil is still leaking and the problem is almost surrealy enormous. And then the moron from Texas went and apologized to the CEO for the “shakedown”…and then had to apologize for his apology. And at this point no one is happy. Why? Because nothing changed back after an apology was made. We’re still living in this world where a CEO can’t fix a huge ecological disaster his company caused, and a representative to the US Congress can’t deny the fact that he was making excuses for his unbelievably stupid behavior.
According to Maimonides, an apology/act of repentance isn’t really complete until someone has encountered the same situation that they initially messed up with, and responded appropriately, as opposed to falling into the same trap they first fell into. Now when you think about it, that means that the vast majority of the time, the apologies we make are not complete. By nature of not facing the exact scenario another time around (and really, how often does that happen?) we haven’t really proven our apology to be true. And that makes sense, because we all know that apologies mostly don’t work. Right?