By Francis Ewherido
A major conflagration was averted somewhere recently. What did it take to avert it? Somebody simply said “I am sorry.” It just got me thinking about how many family feuds would have been avoided, how many marital separations and break ups could have been averted, if somebody had just said, “I am sorry.” But whose responsibility is it to say: “I am sorry”?
It is the responsibility of the guilty person or the person in the wrong to apologise. It is that simple, but not that straightforward. First, we are all prisoners of our orientation and perception, so who is guilty is sometimes a matter of opinion; it is a subjective rather than objective matter. So how can somebody be apologizing when he feels he is not guilty in the first place? When I was 17 years old, something was going wrong in my family; meanwhile, my mother was singing praises to God as if all was well. I was angry and complained aloud that it rankled me when Mama would just be singing and praising God when things were going wrong as if all was well (small pikin mind shaa! What was she supposed to do?).
Everybody, including Mama heard what I said. But it was not what I said that upset her, but the fact that I said it in the presence of an outsider. My brothers told me to apologise, but I refused. I said the outsider was an Igbo girl who did not understand Urhobo, which I spoke. But Mama said this girl was born in Urhobo land in 1971 after the civil war and so understood Urhobo, even if she did not openly speak it. But I still stood my ground. It was not until Mama passed me on the road without stopping or acknowledging my presence that I knew it was a serious matter. That was how apologizing came into my consciousness. But, as I have found out, it is not only perception that is a stumbling block to apologizing, ego is even a bigger stumbling block.
Some people simply think it is demeaning and belittling to say, “I am sorry.” Some also see it as a sign of weakness. Why should an oga apologise to his driver that he wrongly accused? Why should madam apologise to her domestic help whom she is helping by feeding, clothing and housing? After all, she brought her from the village, a land of suffering and darkness, to enjoy city life. Why should madam apologise to her unemployed husband after embarrassing him in front of visitors? Why should a beautiful madam apologise to her husband when she is wrong? If nothing else, all wrongs become right, or at least should be ignored, because of her beauty. Why should a husband who provides “everything” for his wife and family apologise to his wife or children when he is wrong? In fact, why should an “almighty” father apologise to children that came out of his loins?
I thank God for the day Mama ignored me on the road. Over time I have developed the habit of saying I am sorry, although I cannot claim to be a role model when it comes to apologising. But what has amazed me over time is the therapeutic value and healing powers of apologies. You see somebody spoiling for a showdown and you tell him “I am sorry” and it is like ice-cold water has been poured on him. You wrong your children and you say I am sorry; the first thing you notice in their countenance is surprise, then that inexplicable immense joy in their faces. It is so “filling” for a parent.
Apologies repair relationships. Sometimes “I am sorry” can bring life to the hitherto nondescript sex life of couples. But, as I also found out, “I am sorry” does not heal all relationships. Some people simply do not know how to let go, while some claim to forgive, but not forget, whatever that means. If you cannot set people free, of what use is that. You are also holding yourself in bondage anyway. But I understand situations where you decide to forgive somebody, but also decide to close that channel that enabled that person to offend you. That is because some people, given the opportunity, will do the same thing again. For instance, somebody cheated you in a business transaction. You decide to forgive, but cut off business links because he will cheat again if you give him the opportunity. Meanwhile, your personal relationship is still very fine. You only severed that aspect that can lead to another rift. I do not have issues with that.
Now, the other bit is that if the other party refuses to apologise, when he is obviously wrong, what happens? Specifically, if your spouse refuses to apologise when he/she is obviously wrong, what happens? I believe a marriage is bigger than the parties involved, so the marriage should be supreme above personal interest or ego.
The issue should be dealt with case by case. It can be anger over a wife watching her favourite soap or television series on a Tuesday evening and the husband comes in and changes the television channel to soccer to watch his team playing in the Champions League. The woman sees the act as selfish and disrespectful, while the man feels his wife has been watching television and it is now his turn. Consequently, he refuses to apologise. After the initial anger, the woman can shrug it off and say ordinary television programme cannot cause a rift in her marriage.
But things can be more complicated than that. Either spouse gets entangled in adultery and is caught. He/she refuses to apologise or be remorseful because he/she claims the other spouse pushed him/her into it by starving him/her of sex and attention. In some cases, the man fathers a child outside wedlock and is defiant because of the same claim that the wife pushed him into the arms of another woman. Who is wrong in this case? I feel in such situations, the couple needs to sit down, with or without a counselor, and talk things through over time. The matter goes beyond cheating. The whole marriage needs a makeover or overhauling.
Over all, it is good to apologise when you are wrong. It is the hallmark of greatness and maturity. Many people who refuse to apologise are proud. And most times, pride is the armour that covers up their insecurity and ignorance.