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Reflection: Sorry, Not Sorry

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So, the holidays have been marvelous: nourishing, surprising, restorative, necessary.

I took a week off.

But toxicity didn't.

So I am back with my sixth of twelve posts exploring toxic behaviors from an article called "Toxic People: 12 Things They Do and How to Deal With Them" (https://www.heysigmund.com/toxic-people/) by Australian psychologist Karen Young.

And today I want to consider a doozy: the refusal to apologize.

Young highlights the futility of fighting with people in this category, saying:

"They'll lie before they ever apologize, so there's no point in arguing. They'll twist the story, change the way it happened and retell it so convincingly that they'll believe their own nonsense."

We see this in our personal relationships. We see it in business. We see it in politics. We see it in our digital discourse.

A foundational principle of our justice system, though not everybody gets the same justice, is "innocent until proven guilty."

It's a safeguard against false imprisonment that declares it a far greater sin to convict the innocent than fail to convict the guilty. it puts the burden of proof on the accuser.

It also spawns a necessary evil: it doesn't matter what someone has done. It matters what you can prove.

On a personal level, in rooms with no judge or jury, this creates a problem. People who are good at lying, and committed to lying, will often never be convicted of anything.

People who are good at arguing, and committed to winning, may never acknowledge their transgressions.

People who know they can bully you into backing down, may never make amends.

One of the things we have seen in the modern moment is the emergence of a surprising political superpower: shamelessness.

There are points at which honor justifies resignation.

There are points at which our love for a team, or a movement, dictates that we have gone as far as we can go, and must hand the ball to someone else. You can’t foul out and keep playing.

There are points at which the best thing to do is admit guilt. But if one of your core values is that you are never wrong, or that you must always win, or that you will always do what is best for you, then you may never resign, and never quit, no matter how openly you have dishonored yourself, or your supporters, through your conduct.

The honor system doesn’t work if we have no honor. And if you are always able to view yourself sympathetically, no matter how badly you behave, you will likely never see a need to call your own fouls.

As Young observes, however:

"People don’t have to apologize to be wrong. And you don’t need an apology to move forward. Just move forward – without them. Don’t surrender your truth but don’t keep the argument going. There’s just no point. Some people want to be right more than they want to be happy and you have better things to do than to provide fodder for the right-fighters."

In a perfect world, we would all admit to our mistakes. We would all be engaged in a constant process of self-examination, and behavioral inventory, that led to apologies, and efforts at reconciliation that involved, wherever possible, making amends.

We, however, do not live in a perfect world. And making a transgressor’s apology the prerequisite to our healing will result in cycles of disappointment, frustration, bitterness, and impotent rage. You’re home, seething and sorrowing, endlessly playing out different versions of the story, waiting for your day of reckoning. And they’re out playing tennis, or partying, or enjoying the things they took from you, that they’ve now had so long, they forgot where they even came from.

We often won’t get our Kodak moment.

But we can get going.

And our enemies can get lost.

You have too much life to live to sit idling at a green light, waiting for it to turn greener. Or waiting for a reckless driver to admit they hit you in 2017.

Just drive.

You don’t have to pretend they didn’t hurt you. And you don’t have to argue with them until they admit they did. You, too, can put your foot on the gas, and head to the mall, or the beach, or Tahiti, or wherever life is taking you.

You can always ask the question: would you rather be right, or be happy? Would you rather get payback, or get free?

You may have crossed paths with a mudslinger.

And you may have been stained.

But mudslingers know mud. They work with mud. They live in mud.

The good news is you don’t have to.

So keep it clean. And just keep going.

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