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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

On Apologies

From a young age, I was taught to apologize for wrongdoing. There were many biblical passages supporting the lesson presented to me.

In the Marine Corps, a drill instructor (DI) countered the sagely instruction of my youth by boldly declaring, “Marines never apologize!” Of course, throughout my time in the Corps, I witnessed many examples to the contrary of the DI’s audacious claim.

For a period of time in my young adulthood, I was quick to foolishly say, “Fuck your apology,” when people expressed regret for their transgressions. I’m not proud of those days.

Since gaining knowledge, wisdom, and understanding attributed to my prefrontal cortex having been fully developed, I’ve come to appreciate the importance attributed to apologies. Still, not all apologies are created equally.

Interestingly, my practice of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) has brought me full circle, back to the rational compassion promoted by religious caregivers in my youth. In essence, practicing Judeo-Christian faith, I was taught that I was imperfect, as were others, and that we all make mistakes.

Now, agnostic towards spiritual practices, I still don’t shy from admitting my own human fallibility. The capacity to do so is the foundational block of an REBT principle concerning unconditional self-acceptance (USA). Simply put, I acknowledge that I am an imperfect being.

Building upon this approach is unconditional other-acceptance (UOA), admitting that if I’m not perfect it’s plausible that others aren’t either. I can forgive myself for mishaps. Similarly, I can excuse errors from other people.

The final step to this path of recognition is unconditional life acceptance (ULA), whereby I maintain that because all people are flawed, life itself is imperfect. My miscalculations and the blunders relating to others within the past are a suitable example.

We cannot undo that which is behind us. Because my past mistakes are unchangeable, I use ULA to accept that while I wish I hadn’t behaved as I once did when rejecting the apologies of others, I cannot alter what cannot be re-experienced in the present.

The “unconditional” aspect of USA, UOA, and ULA is crucial. The moment I apply a rigid or unhelpful condition to myself, others, or life, I essentially set a trap by which I, others, and life may never be able to overcome.

For instance, if I say, “I will only forgive my past behavior if I never make the same mistake again,” the condition will likely be violated at some point, thus rendering forgiveness of myself a fruitless endeavor. After all, I’m not perfect, you aren’t perfect, and life isn’t perfect.

Regarding apologies, I can appreciate when a person expresses remorse for undesirable behavior. I’d prefer an apology not to be inauthentic, though I can’t rigidly demand an apology.

This, too, is a lesson I wish I would’ve known in the past. Nonetheless, I cannot set a condition upon the apology of another person. If person X apologizes for his behavior, who am I to reject what may actually serve as his opportunity to forgive himself?

Person X may not be seeking absolution from me for his behavior. Person X may be confessing his offense so that he can speak into the world that which originates from in. By saying aloud one’s misdeed, a person can acquire mercy for having humbled oneself enough to admit imperfection.

Person X’s apology may relate to something done to me, though it may not be about me. In this way, I don’t want to stand in the path of someone else’s route to mercy.

I can sit here and write all of this, as though I’m some saintly figure from upon high. However, I’m an imperfect human being. As is the case with the practice of REBT, I find it difficult to implement at times.

For instance, during pandemic response measures, Arnold Schwarzenegger was featured on a video stating:

There is a virus here. It kills people, and the only way we prevent it is to get vaccinated, to wear masks, to do social-distancing, washing your hands all the time, and not just to think about, “Well, my freedom is being, kind of, disturbed here.” No. Screw your freedom, because with freedom comes obligations and responsibilities.

Links I’ve attributed to terms within his quote correlate with blogposts I’ve written in reference to the authoritarianism, tyranny, and transgressions of many of my fellow United States (U.S.) citizens over the course of the pandemic. I abhor much of what I observed in response to the virus.

Particularly, much of what Schwarzenegger verbalized is that with which I take issue. Without UOA and ULA, it would be easy to disturb myself into an enraged frenzy concerning the flagrantly oppressive behaviors I witnessed from so many people in this nation.

Rather than allowing impassioned emotion to drive my behavior, I opt for rational consideration of the circumstances. In a blogpost entitled The Critical A, for the entire world to see, I addressed a proposed notion that our nation needs to “declare a pandemic amnesty.”

In my response to the conciliatory proposition, I stated:

I’m not angered by the content in the article or even in regards to the oppressors who ruined the lives and livelihoods of countless U.S. citizens. Rather, I simply consider such content and actions as annoying, disappointing, and slightly frustrating.

All the same, I further concluded that “there is still no quarter within these walls” for those who failed to learn valuable lessons about their oppressive ways during the response to COVID-19. How does this line up with what I’ve stated herein, as it relates to conditions and apologies?

Point 1: I may hope others may not advocate oppressive policies and procedures. I may prefer that they take safety measures seen fit for their selves. I may like it if citizens of the U.S. weren’t subject to blatant governmental overreach.

However, it is pointless to place conditions on others by commanding that they shouldn’t, mustn’t, or oughtn’t to behave in a manner I consider displeasing. After all, they may have competing morals, ethics, principles, and values than those which I maintain.

I can hold others to rigid conditions, though they don’t have to obey my demands. Therefore, if I choose to absurdly require that people obey my conditions—and when they don’t do so—I have only myself to blame when the consequence of my unhelpful belief is unpleasant.

Point 2: I recognize that apologies may be as much for, if not more so, for the other person than for me. If someone seeks absolution for promoting behavior that likely did more harm than the COVID-19 virus itself, they truly don’t need my forgiveness. They can simply excuse their own behavior.

On the other hand, if I choose to communicate that I excuse a person for being a fallible human being—just as I am an incredibly flawed individual—I can do so without condoning the forgiven behavior. As such, I pardon people without liking or loving what they did.

Recently, Schwarzenegger released a tweet stating, “I’m sorry for saying those words. I try to be relentlessly positive, but sometimes my mouth gets ahead of me. I should have communicated better,” regarding his “screw your freedom” comment.

So, do I forgive a man who has at one time held a position of governmental authority over others, who has wealth and power enough to oppress people, and who showed his antipathy for U.S. liberty and freedom? Schwarzenegger—a fallible human being—doesn’t need my forgiveness.

I appreciate that he’s admitted the shortsightedness of his position in regards to COVID-19. Still, I wonder what he may advocate when virus X—or whatever new purported existential threat to humanity—arises. Time will tell.

I can appreciate a sincere apology. I accept Schwarzenegger’s decision to reconsider his position, as new evidence presumably was evaluated. Likewise, my forgiveness—the process of implementing the unconditional acceptance of an apology—is not akin to forgetfulness.

I can forgive a person for a transgression without allowing the individual accommodation within my home. Therefore, Schwarzenegger is forgiven and he has no quarter within my dwelling.

If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.

As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.

At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!

Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW


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