When i was a child, I recall very clearly the large poster on my wall that paid homage to the virtues taught me in kindergarten. Robert F. had many words of wisdom for me to learn and live. Hold hands when you cross the street. Be kind. Treat others as you’d have them treat you. And more. It seemed that if all I needed to know in life could be taught in kindergarten I was good to go when I was handed my pushpin to hang the poster as reference. After all, I’d finished kindergarten hadn’t I? And hadn’t all my friends as well? What more did we need to know?
As it turns out, it’s not what we needed to learn, but what we needed to not forget.
You see, I was of the impression that basic courtesy and decency was expected from all. That being kind and polite to others was universal and common sense. But then I heard someone say if that’s such common sense, then why is it not so common? I had no answer then but I’ll try and understand it now.
I don’t really know when it was considered passé to be considerate and kind to others. When inquiring into the health and well being of another was thought antiquated. Looked on as old fashioned and good for another generation, but not this one. Maybe it faded around the same time we started to feel vanity or envy. When we looked for differences more than commonalities.
They say that when culture is stripped away, the first thing to go is language. The connection to our roots and heritage are intermingled, intertwined, and steeped in our languages. Griot in Africa. Fables in the Mediterranean. Faerie tales in Western Europe. And in those tales we learn about ourselves and the community. By losing these connections, we start to drop important things. Like, politeness and consideration.
I don’t really know when these things changed. Perhaps it was when my generation started watching shows like The Simpsons or Married With Children. Or perhaps it was when the author of the writers guide to style Strunk and White insisted upon “..BREVITY..” I don’t know. But it happened.
It’s not so much that we’ve stopped saying complete phrases but that even trying to say them now causes us to falter and stumble through a once simple sentence. It even makes one feel awkward to utter a proper sentence without feeling as if one has just walked out of a medieval movie set. “.. My Lord, if it pleases thee, prithee find it within your heart of hearts to forgivest me..” I’m not advocating a full on reversal to the medieval ages to restore honest requests for forgiveness. I’m only saying that when fault is made, there should be a real effort to seek forgiveness for it. And it begins with a request, not a demand, for that forgiveness.
I can not count the number of times I’ve seen sports figures and politicians fall all over themselves trying to express sorrow without being sorrowful. “.. If I offended anyone, it was not my intension..” 0_o that’s just tragically sad. And pathetic. A real apology and request for forgiveness need not be wordy and highbrow. But it should never be a demand for forgiveness. Rather, it should be a request.
These asks are all very common phrases. But I believe the intent behind them have been muddled and conflated over time. Worse it seems like they’ve been used interchangeably.
I have seen a precipitous drop in the politeness barometer on a daily basis. I beg your pardon. Pardon me. The former is asking for a pardon while the latter demands it.
Excuse me. Please, excuse me. The former demands that you forgive them for some infraction while the latter asks for the other to offer relief from the burden of the fault. You see forgiveness is an act that release both from the yoke of guilt, shame, and a hard heart. Forgiveness allows both the offender and the offended to move forward without lingering malice or ill will. I merely suggest that since the act is so important, why not ask it in the spirit of contrition and not false superiority.
He who has not sinned…..
Biblically, John 8 brings this into even better clarity. The woman was accused of a crime and in the end, those who accused her were forced to reckon with their own faults. They left her without malice because they too had a lesson in forgiveness to be reminded of. They hadn’t yet sought forgiveness for their own faults and so they had not yet been made free to move forward in life. Held captive to their unforgiving pasts.
I am certain there is someone who has read this that has been offended. For that fault, I beg your forgiveness. It was never my intention to offend or hurt you. But if you can find it within you to forgive me, I would be grateful. Thank you.