What it does and doesn’t mean to say “I’m sorry!”

If you don’t like this post, blame [in order]:

1) Me

2) Sarah Palin

3) CNN, for showing the sound bite of her comments on the president’s so-called apology to the people of the Middle East–her talking face was the last straw for me

4) People who say Tom Hiddleston apologizes too much

5) Henry Ian Cusick, for giving a portrayal of Jesus as a man of whom I really would ask, “What would you do, man?”

Even though I would not call myself a Christian, I find the images of Ian Cusick playing Jesus in ‘The Gospel of John’ quite soothing.  Soothing images for troubled times.  And what is troubling me is the discrepancy between how different American subcultures understand the word ‘sorry.’

I am not a Christian, but the culture in which I was raised is Judeo-Christianity.  Based on the values I was given, if someone says to me, for example, “My house was stuck by lightning, and the whole second floor was burned up,”  the first words out of my mouth are likely to be, “I’m so sorry!”  Half the people I would say this to would respond “Why are you sorry?  You didn’t strike my house with lightning?”  To which I would stutter through an explanation:  "I guess what I mean to say is ‘I’m sorry to hear that your house was struck by lightning,’ all the while thinking to myself, ‘Jeeeez, isn’t it obvious that I know I didn’t strike your house with lightning??’

Maybe that example is absurd, but I swear these are basically true stories.  I had a therapist once tell me that I needed to stop apologizing for everything, apparently because I would often say ‘I’m sorry’ if I didn’t understand something she said.  I found that a little offensive, coming from her, actually.  I was just being polite after all.

Try another example.  Friend:  "The hairdresser totally fucked up the color of my hair this time.  I’ll probably cut it really short even though I don’t want to.“

Me:  "I’m sorry.”

Friend:  "Why, it isn’t your fault, it’s the stupid hairdresser’s fault.“

The point I’m making is that there is a group of people who always see "I’m sorry” as an apology/admission of a personal transgression.  And then there is the other group [me included] who see “I’m sorry” as a statement of empathy.  This is kind of a big deal because this schism is playing out right now on a global scale.  A lot of Americans are sorry that Muslims were offended by a stupid video that went viral recently.  As far as I know, none of those Americans who feel that way are claiming to have done the offending.   It’s a sad day when people can’t tell someone they are sorry for their predicament without appearing weak or at fault, you know?

I’m not a Christian, but the guy called Jesus that has been illustrated to me through stuff like the movie ‘The Gospel of John’ actually seems like a superior human being in all his dealings with people.  I’m quite fond of the expression “What Would Jesus Do?”  I’m no expert, but I think Jesus would want to speak to the people of Libya, Egypt, etc. and he would want to say “I’m so sorry that you are going through this amount of rage.  You must feel so much pain.”  And I don’t think that he would have to explain that he didn’t make the video.

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