The Qualified Apology

I grew up in a world without lies.

That is a lie, of course, but the truth in a lie is found in context or in timing or in point of view. Or in my case, to scope.

I may or may not have my facts correct, and as much as it sometimes abhors me, the Past and Past Persons are canonized if you’re on good terms with your own personal history.

That I may have my facts wrong has no bearing on the truth in my own statement “I grew up in a world without lies.” This kind of thing triggers eye-rolling, begs paradox and certainly invites Absolutists—who by the way live with Paradoxes both esoteric and profound—to take Divine Exception to my “obvious” moral relativism. If any of these reactions are yours, best (better?) stop reading here.

Without moderation there can be no extremes. Without lies, no truths. Without mortality, no time. And don’t forget that old chestnut, without Evil, no Good.

It’s easy to swap relative points of view when you’re on a train. Am I moving rapidly past the tunnel wall or is the tunnel wall flying past me?

The point to this talk of truth and the truth to the point I make is that success, idyl, protection and even comfort are just as limiting as failure, duress, menace and pain.

Know only safety and you’ve no skills in defending yourself. Succeed in a given academic and/or career path and you’ve aborted alternative lifepaths. Be only safe and end up without adventure or experience.

Have I convinced you that everything comes in pairs, specifically pairs of notions that live in tension with one another? Couple that with the idea of an exclusively cause-and-effect universe and you’ve got a sort of graph-paper surface on which to live a rational and “normal” life, so it would seem.

But what does truth speak to candor? What does silence lend a lie? In the finitude of my existence, there is no ‘all or nothing’.

Rhetorical nonsense all, but without nonsense, how can there be sense? Hunt through the rhetoric and hope to find dialectic? Paralipsis? A rot13 joke about a monkey with a gun?

Some part of your brain will be scouting for a something in all of this that shapes it to your own understanding. “Reading between the lines”, at the very least.

A lie is not necessarily an untruth, it can merely be a statement contrary to fact. Surely something in you—something very near to that scouting-for-meaning-something, probably—can appreciate the difference, even if your final judgment is equivalence.

Having lived in a world without lies, at first with family in so wonderful an environment that no one should deserve such a thing, then in a world where I chose for myself to exist amidst others who favored, if not truth, at least authenticity. That is how I continued to choose over and over.

My very good friend Mike and I had an extended “such is my life” kind of discussion because we can. Because we’ve known each other for fifteen years. Because we are of similar temperaments. Because we’re from very different upbringings yet our separate conclusions are the same. Well, quite similar.

It is a tragic fact of living that an atmosphere of truth might be burned away by a single lie. Even by a lack of candor. Semantics are important, otherwise they wouldn’t exist. Candor and silence, truth and lie, we try to reconcile conflicts and syncretize the rest. But if we have not experienced deceit we have no defense against it; if our environment lacked in good will, we have no ability to understand its emotional mathematics if we are lucky enough to be situated in its midst.

We resort to intellectualizing it (or ‘winging it’ or ‘shooting from the hip’) because we have no suitable skills, or we rebel against it in a fit of aggressive diffidence to dodge or disrupt or distract.

The lie, the truth, the candor, the reticence, the silence. Life is not a problem to be solved but a reality to experience. You can’t think-it-through mistrust and you can’t solve for kindness to a stranger.

Sure, one lie may end an era of trustworthiness, but candor, I’ve found, can be a strong countermeasure, e.g., I have wronged you and so I apologize, volunteer a genuine posture of vulnerability and hope that you can see with your instinct and experience what your intellect has no sensibilities for. This is what I was taught was the true act of apology: the audacity to request forgiveness. The trick is that the wronged must decide to believe and accept.

And how does the earnestly penitent effectively show vulnerability? When I have wronged another and have apologized, I am concerned with making the other feel better, not myself. I admit to my wrongs, directly and without qualification. I make no demands, I make no pleas. I offer restitution, leaving the details to the transgressed. I accept that though I am earnest, the other person may not see it or believe it. I am ready to accept failure and do, if that’s the way it plays out.

Most importantly, I offer no explanations unless asked. My reasons for having wronged have no place in an apology. The situation, the circumstance, the reasons and explanations of my offense have no place and are of no matter, unless they matter to the one to whom I am apologizing.

In accepting someone else’s apology, like everyone else my posture is at first en garde. After all, it’s up to the transgressor to do the work. I look for the same things from him or her that I offer when I apologize.

And just as one lie can collapse an environment of trust and good will, so in an apology can the smallest hint of self-absolution completely invalidate an apology offered to me. Some call this “waiting for the ‘but’”. You know what I’m talking about. In fact, I’m sure you can think of multiple times you’ve listened to an apology, an offer, a deal—even a sales pitch!—and waited for the other shoe to drop.

An apology stops being an apology at the first sign of self-interest.

This is the bottom line, the closest I may ever come to a belief in absolutes.

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