In my own write: Mea culpa

Apologizing might feel like “giving in,” but it’s more often a win-win situation, giving a relationship a new lease on life.

By
April 2, 2013 22:54
Billboards put up in Ankara to thank Erdogan for getting Israel to apologize for Marmara incident.

Thanks Erdogan for Israel apology billboards 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Umit Bektas)

This column prides itself on honesty and openness, full disclosure and all that. It thus behooves me to make a long-delayed confession to those readers who mourned along with me the demise of my faithful, 20-year-old car (“Wheeling and dealing,” December 6, 2011).

The true fact of the matter is that Mr. Useful – battered, but with his hood held high – is still faithfully serving as our family car, giving newer models a run for their money.

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When I wrote the piece, it did look like the end of the road for our loyal retainer, whose gears had gone, leaving him standing idle and useless in our parking lot. I was on the point of calling the towing company to arrange his final journey when we learned about the Transportation Ministry’s safety plan to pay old-car owners a NIS 3,000 “scrapping grant” to encourage them to take their vehicles off the road.

The plan has been suspended several times owing to ministry budget constraints; but we reasoned that once it (hopefully) got off the ground, the grant in question would defray the cost of installing new gears. So why not delay the inevitable a while longer? ALL THIS is by way of introduction to an incident that occurred last week.

My husband and I, paying a Pessah call in a nearby neighborhood, had pulled up perpendicular to the sidewalk, where the parking allocation was generous.

As we emerged from our friends’ building, however, we saw a car swerve rapidly into an adjoining space and heard a hefty bang.

“That’s our car he’s hit,” I exclaimed, shocked, and strode over to confront the careless driver, who meanwhile had climbed out of his vehicle. He had smashed into the corner of our bumper, prising it away from the body, while his car, a shiny new Mercedes, sustained damage to its front.

The offender, a burly fellow, looked over our car, and our bumper, dismissively.

“It’s nothing,” he said aggressively, referring to what he had inflicted on us.

“That’s an old car, worth NIS 100. Look, there are dents everywhere.”

This really made me bristle. “It doesn’t matter whether our car is worth NIS 100, NIS 100,000, or NIS 5,” I retorted heatedly, “you smashed into it. Its age and condition, moreover, are irrelevant. If an elderly person is involved in an accident, doesn’t he deserve medical treatment?” This outburst had some effect, and he became less confrontational. It transpired that he owned an auto supply shop down in the industrial area, and mentioned the name.

“Look,” he said, “I’ve no tools here. Come over tomorrow morning and I’ll screw your bumper on again. Good as new.” He didn’t sneer, which I suppose was to his credit.

Next morning, I drove to his shop, where he suited action to word. Our bumper is now probably more firmly attached than before – and, undeniably, all’s well that ends well. But two things still troubled me.

He had revealed the day before, in answer to my question, that the reason he had crashed into our car when there was plenty of space to park comfortably alongside it was that he had been busy with his cellphone.

“Suppose there had been a small child standing in that space?” I asked him the next day. “You weren’t looking as you swerved in, so how did you know there wasn’t anyone there?” He brushed this possibility aside with “Nothing like that happened, so let’s not worry about it.” Clearly he was not the most imaginative of people. Multiply him by any number of drivers who concentrate more on their iPhones than on their driving, and the possible – probable – scenarios are scary.

The other troubling thing continued to occupy me long after we had parted.

“You drove into our car,” I remarked before I left, “yet you never once said you were sorry. Don’t you think you ought to have apologized?” I wish I could relay his answer to this very understandable question, but he didn’t really offer one. As it turned out, he wasn’t a bad fellow, his aggressiveness notwithstanding; and yet the notion that he had done something that called for an apology on his part clearly hadn’t occurred to him – nor did he deem it necessary after I had drawn his attention to it.

It caused me wry amusement to ponder this incident in the context of the place I hail from – Britain – where, even today, if someone treads on someone else’s foot on the bus, both treader and treadee are liable to apologize profusely. I guess it’s a question of different cultures, a topic which has been on my mind quite a lot lately.

CULTURAL DIFFERENCE is partly what makes our prime minister’s recent apology to his Turkish counterpart over the Mavi Marmara flotilla affair a cause for concern despite the overwhelming support for it in government quarters. Pragmatism is important in international relations, yet more than one strategic affairs expert has pointed out that we Israelis live in a tough neighborhood where every act is viewed through the prism of power and any concession – an apology, for instance – is most likely to be interpreted as weakness and exploited, something Turkey’s leader has – predictably? – rushed to do.

While only time will tell whether Binyamin Netanyahu’s apology to Recep Tayyip Erdogan was politically justified, about apologies in general it seems fair to say they have real value only when proffered in good faith and with grace, and received in the same way.

SADLY THE field of politics is not known for those qualities. But moving from the macro to the micro, the narrower and perhaps less complex area of personal relations thrives on grace and good faith. Throw in some honesty and a bit of courage, and chances are “you’ll never walk alone.”

Whoever came up with the line “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” didn’t know much about love, or about the deepening of intimacy that can follow when one partner has hurt or offended the other, which is almost inevitable at some point in all close relationships.

That may sound paradoxical. But achieving intimacy is a journey of discovering another person – a journey for which, moreover, no detailed maps are provided at the outset. Acquiring deep knowledge of the other almost certainly involves witting or unwitting intrusion into his or her areas of sensitivity.

Which is why we should never hesitate to apologize to those closest to us when we have injured them.

“In marriages,” write author Gary Chapman and counselor Jennifer Thomas, “domestic turmoil is often rooted in an unwillingness to apologize.... For lack of an apology, [the couple] declare war, which sometimes lasts for years and often ends in divorce or death.”

When you apologize, moreover, you give the other person the power to forgive, which can lead to an enormous sense of mutual relief and healing, a feeling of gratitude, and a stronger relationship.

Apologizing might feel like “giving in,” but it’s more often a win-win situation, giving a relationship a new lease on life.

IT WOULD have been really nice if the aggressive fellow who crashed into our car last week had apologized, but apologizing clearly wasn’t part of his personal repertoire. Perhaps his ready, if clumsy, offer to fix our bumper was a kind of unstated apology, the best he could do.

In the end, you can’t get away from it; we all respond differently in different situations. As my mother used to say, “God has a large zoo.”


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