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Should I apologize for cruelty to classmate?

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By Carolyn Hax
Published:
Hi, Carolyn:
I知 40 with a wonderful family and fulfilling career. Occasionally I am consumed with regret for past behavior. In middle school, there was a boy who was different (a disability; thick glasses; blue collar in a neighborhood of professionals). The students were not kind to this boy. Neither was I. I never engaged in any active teasing, but I ignored him as much as possible. We used to 都pray for cooties and every time I had to touch something he had touched, I 都prayed! I think I felt so out-of-place myself that I thought if I associated with him at ALL I would also be targeted.
I deeply regret being such a little horror. Would there be any utility in writing this man a letter to apologize? I see no reason to go into the specifics, except as they apply to me my own insecurities, etc., led me to be awful. In other words, no point in saying, 的 remember that you were treated like a total loser and here are the things I remember doing.
Is an apology worth attempting, years later? Or does it just bring back painful memories for the recipient while the sender gets relief from the guilt?
E.
No, it痴 not worth attempting though I壇 tweak that. It痴 not appropriate to attempt. What could you say to make him whole? That you mistreated him because he looked different? Surely he knows that. That you grew up enough to feel bad about it now? I can稚 imagine he壇 care about that accomplishment.
My Puritanism is showing, but isn稚 feeling bad about this a fitting punishment for the deed?
If you and he were face-to-face, I might answer differently; the chemistry of the moment is your best guide to whether an apology would heal or insult.
And had you been cruel to a friend, that would definitely change the answer, because a prior relationship introduces the possibility of misplaced blame: Your friend could still theoretically believe he or she did something to upset you. In that case, your reaching back into the past to amend the record, to place all of the blame on your own shoulders, could (not would there痴 no certainty here) heal both you and your victim. There痴 still some risk your old friend wouldn稚 care about a 25-year-old middle school grievance, but you clearly still do, so there痴 that.
There痴 also this: You can make amends in different ways.
The first is to stop rationalizing. Yes, you池e admitting fault, but in the very same thought you池e making excuses no active teasing, I was insecure, 斗ed me to be, blah blah. Come on. If you池e going to own it, then own it: You had in you, and no doubt still have, the capacity for such cruelty. It痴 not that you were weak, it痴 that you stomped on someone weaker.
You池e not alone, of course. It痴 all of us. We all have this inside.
Now you池e mature enough not to ostracize people. Well, maybe subtle middle-school carryovers among adults pretty much keep me employed but you insult this person all over again if you treat yours as the isolated mistake of a bygone self.
Instead, honor him by knowing your humanity, knowing this dark and selfish aspect of you, acknowledging it痴 always going to be there and never forgetting that our right to walk among decent people depends on our ongoing mastery over these impulses.
You mention a family children? If so, then also serve this boy well through your teaching. Ask your kids what they see in school and around the neighborhood. Ask how they feel about these things. If there are kids like this boy targets talk about how they might feel. Ask your kids how they handle these situations. Talk, in age-appropriate ways, about the human impulse toward elevating ourselves on the backs of those we perceive as weak. Share with them that your unkindness a quarter century ago nags at you still.
Kids will be cruel, yes but that痴 no excuse for not asking better of them.
Hi, Carolyn:
My ex and I broke up about two months ago, and not on the best terms. I adored his family, though.
His sister and brother-in-law recently had a baby, which I saw via social media. What are your thoughts on sending a quick Facebook message congratulating them? I sincerely just want to wish them well, and have no desire to connect with my ex. It feels so weird to have been at their baby shower this spring, and to not even acknowledge the child痴 birth.
Anonymous
You池e family till you池e not: The saga of the serious squeeze.
I highly doubt they池e feeling weird, but I知 also a sucker for no-strings-attached good will, so it痴 a wash. Trust your gut.
Except: If you mistreated your ex, or have an agenda? Stay in the sunset you rode off into.
(c) 2014, Washington Post Writers Group

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