There is a universal fear that must be overcome if we are to maintain our civil society and prosper as Canadians. That is the fear of being wrong. We all have it. I’d like to say that, since I’m bringing light to it, I’ve overcome it somehow, but at most I’ve been able to minimize its harmful effects on my life.
If you slow down and think about it, of course we’re all going to be wrong at some point. There has yet to be a person in history that did not make an error in judgement. If you are religious, you might call to mind Jesus, or Mohammed, or Buddha, or whoever your spiritual leader happens to be. Fair enough, but for the rest of us mortals, sin is the human condition, and with it, a fear of consequence.
I should slow down a bit and explain. The word ‘sin’ is defined as ‘to miss the mark.’ Maybe not the way you were taught, but that was the original sense. When I first learned about this, it revolutionized my life. I was raised Catholic, so I’ve always had a strong connection to Christian concepts, and ever since I was a child, the spectre of sin hung heavy on my shoulders.
I was a good kid. Generally a good kid anyway. Why was it that I, who tried desperately to stay on God’s good side, failed time and time again to avoid sinning? And how could we expect people who weren’t as devout as me to do any better? At fourteen years old, I was already losing hope in the World.
But back then I understood ‘sin’ to be equated with ‘evil’. Now I see that it’s merely ’missing the mark’. I see that it’s not a defect in my soul that compels me to do wrong, but merely bad aim. Here’s an excerpt from the Wikipedia article on sin: “The English Biblical terms translated as "sin" or "syn" from the Biblical Greek and Jewish terms sometimes originate from words in the latter languages denoting the act or state of missing the mark; the original sense of New Testament Greek ἁμαρτία hamartia "sin", is failure, being in error, missing the mark, especially in spear throwing; Hebrew hata "sin" originates in archery and literally refer[s] to missing the "gold" at the centre of a target, but hitting the target, i.e. error.”
Can you imagine if an archer or a javelin thrower assumed their failure to hit the bulls-eye was due to a fundamental evil within? No one would ever learn, lest the number of ‘sins’ committed in pursuit of sport condemn their immortal souls to hell. But of course that is absurd. Bad aim just means you have to practice, learn to use your tools, and have a sincere desire to improve. And above all, you must be willing to miss the mark a lot until you don’t.
So why do we not apply the same logic in our daily lives? Instead, so many of us would rather avoid situations where we may be seen to fail, avoid conversations where we may be proven wrong, and avoid people who challenge us in good faith. The fundamental sin we are committing when we do this is to identify with our sin.
In other words, what we do in the World only defines us until we try something new. It is only our unwillingness to search for new solutions to our problems that makes us ’sinners’, to borrow the term. Until we overcome the resistance to admitting we were wrong, we will continue to suffer for our sins. And the World will suffer too, because we are too afraid to make it better.
To those of you who are not religious, I hope you can still appreciate my point. The ‘ego’ wishes to define itself as a static unchanging whole, but by the very nature of being alive we are fluid and dynamic beings. Therefore, the error in judgement is having to live by our past mistakes, because somehow we come to believe that our past mistakes define us forever, or that others will lose respect for us if we change.
It’s a funny quirk of humanity. If someone has done something wrong to you, and they take steps to amend it, you appreciate them more as a person. But if you are asked to amend your wrongs, you think you will lose something if you acquiesce, that you will be seen as less. And so, what could be a minor interaction between two people can become a big deal.
Here I’ve touched base on some theology and basic psychoanalytic jargon, but I don’t think we have to go as far as all that to understand. My parents taught me when I was young to say ‘sorry’ if I hurt someone’s feelings. I learned in school and Catechism that I should do unto others as I would have them do unto me. We expect our kids to behave that way, but us adults with our massive cognitive capacities can talk circles around what our moms told us to do. You’ll find, however, that svolunteering a ‘sorry’ when someone is upset saves you from dusting off your philosophy textbooks and diving headlong into a debate.
And here’s one more thing that might make it easier to take my advice. I have a strong suspicion that people don’t know what ‘sorry’ even means, and maybe that’s why they seem to be so stingy with the sentiment nowadays. ‘Sorry’ means to feel regret, or sympathy. As in, when you hear someone has suffered a family tragedy, you say “I’m sorry”. You didn’t do anything wrong. No one implied you did. But you understand the pain someone else is feeling and wish to let the person know they are understood.
Y ya sé que en español la palabra es perdón y que tiene diferente significado, pero les apuesto que no conocen cual es. La palabra nos viene del latín, y originalmente consiste de dos partes. ‘Per-‘ es decir ‘por’ y ‘-don’ es decir ‘donare’, o en español, dar un regalo. ¿Qué hay de mal regalarle algo a una persona que sufre si a usted no le cuesta nada, y a ellos puede ser de gran valor?
In sum, saying you’re sorry may seem like you’re admitting to the World that you are wrong, but sometimes that makes you more correct than you were before, at least closer to the mark, and that’s not so bad.