Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Sunday, May 16, 2010

To Zayda: On Saying Sorry

Today's African proverb: Sorry doesn't heal a wound, but it can clean a wound. (Africa)

Dear Zayda,

Some people think Prime Minister Bruce Golding should apologize to the country. As today’s African proverb cautions us, saying sorry might clean the wound, but the cut still has to be healed.

When I was a little girl living in the country, a family came to visit us for Sunday lunch with their son. My memory of this boy is that he had a cap he loved, and that he teased me all that day. All day. I was a plump child, so perhaps he was making fun of my weight. None of the adults did anything about his behavior. I didn’t complain because my dad expected me to learn to look after myself with my mouth or my fists when other children bothered me.

So I put up with the teasing the best I could. All day. That evening, my parents walked the boy's family part way home. As we crossed a bridge over a river, I snatched the boy’s cap and threw it in the water. All the adults were then angry at me, and the little boy was crying as he watched his cap sail downstream.

I felt secretly pleased at what I had done, but I apologized to save myself worse punishment.

However, wounds tend to remain unhealed and may even get dirty again if left alone after the initial cleaning. I was still angry that I was the one to apologize after all I had gone through that day. No one had made the little boy apologize for mistreating me. In addition, I expect my apology did nothing to help the little boy get over the loss of his favorite cap.

For healing to take place, all the persons involved need to act and think differently. For example, in this incident I needed to be able to accept that being angry is all right, and then to know how to manage the feeling so I wouldn’t have to choose revenge. In addition, I may also have needed to contribute in some way – loss of pocket money or privileges - to restoring the cap that I threw in the river.
My parents could have taken this as a change to teach me healthy ways of dealing with teasing. They could also have helped me to love myself so well that this boy’s teasing could have no effect on me. The boy's parents could have realized that their child was a bully before he was a victim. Those are important lessons to learn.

Avoiding further trouble is usually one of the main reasons we say we are sorry. The test comes when someone wants us to follow up the cleaning with healing. We may then say, “Didn’t you hear me say I am sorry? What else do you want me to do?”

Sometimes an apology contains a sting that adds to the hurt. For example, we may say, “If this bothers you, I am sorry. But why do you have to be so sensitive? Can’t you take a joke? Besides, I spoke the truth. It’s not my fault that you are fat.”

The less we are ready for the healing is the more false our apology is likely to sound. Even if the apology is well meant, others might not accept it without seeing signs that healing will follow.

Prime Minister Golding might want to remain Prime Minister, or his party might want him to continue to lead them. Today they have a meeting where they will discuss his future. He might be persuaded to apologize to the nation. However, his apology is not likely help him or his party if so much damage is already done that people don’t trust his words. So there may be a problem at this stage even with the cleaning of the wound, let alone the healing.

So, Zayda, an apology is less than half a job done, worse still if the apology is empty and forced on us. The healing is the major part, the part that shows our good faith.

Apologies therefore need to come with reparations. If we are truly sorry, we also need to be willing to repair whatever damage we have done. Besides, when we act wrongly, we often need to start the repair job inside of ourselves.


Your shangazi

No comments:


When the occasion arises, there is a proverb to suit it. (Proverb from Rwanda and Burundi)

Welcome to this space where we can talk about proverbs that we can relate to (or not), and proverbs that make sense to us (or not). Most of all we can discuss how proverbs make us think about life and living. We can also share experiences of proverbs that have provided us with lifelines or just the chance to reflect.

Some of the proverbs here may also be found in "Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs", published by Random House and authored by Askhari Johnson Hodari and me. The foreword is written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

One of the unique features of our book is that we arranged the proverbs according to life cycle, in sections including, Birth, Childhood, Love, Marriage, and Intimacy, Challenge, and Death.

For more proverbs and for information on Lifelines: the Black Book of Proverbs, please visit us at