Conflict eventually ends. Then what do you do?
On Pink’s brilliant new album TRUSTFALL, is a duet she sings with Chris Stapleton entitled Just Say I’m Sorry, an affecting and beautiful song about, you guessed it, apologizing. The chorus goes like this:
Everybody wants to be
The one who’s right
Everybody wants the last word to end the fight
Every day is a new day with a chance to choose
Sometimes the way you win
Is to say you lose
I grew up with a father who insisted he was always right, although he very seldom was. Just like so many of my clients who insist on getting their pound of flesh, his pride precluded him from considering the possibility that he might have been wrong. “Everybody wants to be the one who’s right” And if they should even reach that apotheosis, there’s the giant leap to contrition accompanied by those two troubling words “I’m sorry”.
Occasionally, while mediating in Superior Court civil harassment and restraining law cases, a defendant would upend expectations by apologizing immediately for everything they did or might have done at the beginning of the mediation process. At first, I was gratified that my skills had miraculously guided them to the gates of Valhalla, and they were now to be seen as beatific, saintly beings wanting nothing more than the continued good health and safety of the petitioner, who was in attendance due to the malign and sometimes dangerous actions of our now reformed sinner. It gradually dawned on me that this “finding the light” moment was nothing more than a ruse to escape the just punishment of a restraining order.
Apologies to get something aren’t apologies. Kids apologize to escape a parent’s wrath, sinners repent to get into the Kingdom of Heaven, original sin perpetuates a state of permanent regret even small children can’t avoid and perhaps it gives credence to the last line of Pink’s chorus “Sometimes the way you win is to say you lose.” It’s all right if you believe in that kind of thing, I guess. But saying it doesn’t make it true.
A sincere apology means you’ve made a considered determination that you were wrong and you a) feel bad about it and b) want to make amends. In other words, you really do have a conscience. These days, when the truth is anybody’s guess, and when pride of right becomes its own artificial intelligence, as Pink says, “Every day is a new day with a chance to choose”. What do you choose?
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