September 26, 2016
Spelman states in chapter five of Repair “an apology is a kind of offering, a kind of gift” (85). In my opinion, a truly sincere apology is rare enough that it can be considered a gift. One of the things that I have noticed about myself recently is the amount of times I say the word sorry. I give out unnecessary apologies multiple times a day. Sometimes it is to fill an awkward silence but most of the time the words “I’m sorry” escape my mouth before I even realize what I’m saying. On certain occasions, others have obviously questioned these uncalled for apologies. Just the other day, I walked up to a water fountain at the same time as another person and uttered “Sorry!” without thinking. The person responded with a quick laugh and a “For what?” and I found myself wondering why I felt the need to apologize for my presence, since the water fountain is a space where it would be quite common for two people to be at once. This is just a current example of my bad habit of apologizing. As I reflect, I realize the need to actually cut down on my apologies in day to day life. Throwing around these fluttering “sorries” makes them lose almost all real meaning. They become space fillers, much like saying “um” or “like” in my sentences.
It has come to my realization that we should save our apologies for when they are truly called for, which is what the author seems to believe as well. Spelman states:
“To apologize to someone is to say that there is a harm worth attending to, a relationship worth mending, a rule worth honoring, a community worth preserving” (83).
The author believes that to be a meaningful apology, the offender must consider not only how they hurt another person, but how their action affected the community around them. She talks a lot about tears in the social fabric, and how individuals breaking rules or trust can rip it open. These individuals in turn must apologize to repair the damage they have done all around them. An apology needs to be sincere for it to have any weight or meaning. The apologizer must have genuine emotion, regret, or guilt. The most important parts of a true apology are the offender realizing they have done wrong, knowing they hurt the other person, and taking full responsibility for their mistakes without excuses.
Even though an apology is sincere, that does not always mean it will mend a broken relationship. For example, one of the most common times an remedy is needed is when one member of a relationship is disloyal. If the person who cheated on their significant other really does regret that it happened, they must own up to their mistake. They realize that what they did was completely wrong, and that it hurt their partner beyond what they could believe. This type of mistake also hurts the people around them, not just their boyfriend or girlfriend. The third person involved can be hurt if they do not know of the relationship they are getting between. Friends of the person cheated on can feel sorry for them, and those who trusted the cheater may have their trust broken. No matter how eloquent the offenders apology may be, it often cannot make up for their actions, at least not immediately. The hurt that they cause needs time to heal and trust must be regained. The apology can be accepted or not, but sometimes it comes down to the fact that sincerity does not always lead to acceptance. Some things are just not that easily repaired, especially when emotions are involved.
Spelman points out the large difference between apologies and reparations in chapter five as well. Reparations are giving back money or physical things to make up for wrongdoing. The issue with this act is that there can be little emotion behind them. There is more of a feeling of necessity to reparations, rather than genuine regret and understanding like with an apology. In the 1980s, president Ronald Reagan compensated more than 100,000 Japanese Americans for themselves or their family members being put in internment camps during World War II. Each person received a formal apology and $20,000 of reparations. This was a circumstance where a monetary repayment was required, along with an expression of regret. A simple apology from the American government could not make up for the terrible damages the government did to the Japanese citizens during the time of war. Although these people were given a formal apology, they did not have to accept it. This is how the relationship between apologizer and the person to whom the apology is offered works.
The mentioned relationship is a unique one. Both parties are emotionally vulnerable in the situation of apologizing. The person offering the apology may have a fear of rejection or silence from the person they hurt, and the person who is given the apology must decide whether it is a good enough action to make up for the way they were treated. Sometimes, an apology is all that is needed. If a couple gets into a small argument, the words “I’m sorry” and a realization that at least one of the parties involved was wrong can solve the fight. Often, both members of a relationship can admit they were not completely in the right, and things are resolved from there. When one person is more stubborn than the other, their apology might not be as quick to appear, but once it does it may mean even more. In other cases, such as the one of the Japanese internment camps, an easy “I’m sorry” does not cut it. These escalated wrongs call for a much more serious response from the offenders. What can be learned from Spelman’s writing in this chapter is that different circumstances call for different responses. All people involved in a situation that needs repairing must think of it universally and consider what they need to do to make up for the wrongs that were committed. Apologies and reparations are just more forms of human repair to relationships that Spelman brings to light as her book continues on.