Unilateral disarmament – sayin’ sorry

Rick and I were sitting in our respective corners the other day, licking our wounds and nursing our grievances after a little marriage-y stoush. I won’t bore you (or embarrass myself) with the details, except to say it was one of those minor but annoying arguments that leave you feeling miserable and trying to figure out ways to undo what just happened.

At any rate, about 15 minutes later, Rick came over and said, “I’m so sorry. I was completely out of line and that’s not the way I want to behave at all.”

Damn.

A puff of dandelionHe did it again. There I was, with not a leg to stand on, no hostility left in me whatever, not able to remember what could possibly have been so important that I was willing to fight about it—and knowing that any part Rick played in the problem, I played at least twice as much.

But Rick is pretty much always the first to say sorry. He somehow just sets his ego to the side, recognising early on that winning is not much of a victory compared with being in harmonious relationship. So he just drops his weapons to the floor.

I have long recognised that anytime I am involved in an argument, there is always something I am sorry about. And if I can identify what that is, it’s works a treat to say it out loud – to the person I’m out of sorts with. I remember working very hard at that one time when I’d just faced off with a co-worker and had strong words. He was generally something of an idiot (ahem) and this time I’d let him get to me. I truly believe that if any of you were watching you would have rubber stamped his position “INVALID”… but that didn’t alter the fact that harmony at work was threatened (as well as my sleep) until this was set right. I knew I needed to say something, but what? I didn’t want to appear weak, and I didn’t want to be inauthentic.

What I realised was that I felt stupid and immature for letting myself get out of control. So I went round to his office and apologised, without a trace of grovelling, for that simple thing. That was all it took. Solving the initial disagreement was easy once it was clear that there was something more important at stake than just being right about this issue.

Rick and I were talking the other day about the old practice of duelling, and how for several hundred years a perceived insult could result in two people facing off with an intention to kill one another. As a matter of fact thousands upon thousands of members of the English, European and American upper class were wiped out in this fashion. I wonder how often someone managed to come around to his opponent the night before the dual, to say something that was not weak and not inauthentic, and thus to avert a potential disaster. And I’ll bet you when that happened, it was the stronger of the two who was willing to withdraw.

I observe a similar thing in people’s primary relationships. When a couple is experiencing a lot of friction, you can always spot which one will be strong enough to unilaterally disarm. This partner is somehow able to learn to stop resisting and stop escalating. That’s the person with the power to make a difference in the relationship. (If you have any friends like this, you might consider sending them to Rick for lessons.)

Now, here’s a thought experiment for you: what if whole countries were willing to unilaterally disarm? What if America were to announce that it was getting rid of its entire nuclear arsenal, and furthermore was sorry for the threat to world peace that that those armaments have posed for decades? It’s a scary idea, given our perception of some of the enemies out there. Our great fear is that our goodwill will be taken advantage of—and that indeed could happen.

But a much more likely result is a de-escalation of hostility. There’s probably the odd psychopathic bully out there, but fortunately not too many of them, our fears notwithstanding. I suspect most of our enemies feel they’re doing the right thing in view of the insults they’ve received, and that doesn’t describe a bully. How long would most hostilities hold up if one party apologised—with strength and integrity?

If you managed to successfully imagine that scenario, and now want a REAL challenge for a thought experiment, picture Tony Abbott supporting unilateral disarmament. He finds a way to be strong and to be authentic, while laying down arms with his cabinet, with the honourable members of the opposition, and with the world at large. (Warning: this exercise could fry your circuits.)

Anyway, Rick, I was wrong about you-know-what, and thank you for the example you set for the world.

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6 thoughts on “Unilateral disarmament – sayin’ sorry

  1. You got it, sister! Great piece. I’ve been thinking a lot about forgiveness lately, and seeking forgiveness is one aspect of “unilateral disarmament.” The growing popularity of Truth & Reconciliation Commissions after Nelson Mandela’s example is heartening. Here’s a great story about the power of accepting an apology: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/27/nazi-guard-kiss-holocaust-survivor-eva-mozes-kor_n_7149364.html

    • What a moving story. We were talking over lunch coffee today with German friends about the “muteness” of the German experience, after the war. Even this story is almost too big to talk about, isn’t it?

      • I was recently talking about “forgiveness” to a specialist in Truth & Reconciliation. He offered a couple of different definitions of forgiveness: 1.) Giving up the hope for the past to have been different than it was. 2.) Giving up all thoughts of revenge. — Of course, neither of those downplay the seriousness of what happened, but they do point to a way forward.

  2. Goody. goody. Fri. another epistle from dear Heather.. I . too. admire you Rick….. In my old age, I find it easy to apologize…

    Sent from Windows Mail

  3. If only it was that simple, I’m afraid my experience in life has been somewhat different,while acknowledging the potential compassion and goodness in the human condition we are often motivated by self-interest in its darker forms.dont get me wrong I’m not disagreeing with you I just think it’s a lot more complicated .Saying sorry is a good place to start,though I did read an article that said saying sorry was an acceptance of fault and perhaps guilt and responsibility,I know that is not always the case but it does provide another perspective,sorry didn’t mean to sound so negative.

    cheers Ian

  4. Hi Ian – yes, I agree, saying sorry is a very small piece of a very big pie (and not even the same thing as unilateral disarmament). It would be interesting to hear your stories sometime!

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