The MORALITY of APOLOGY....

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Registered: 10-27-2004
The MORALITY of APOLOGY....
1
Fri, 11-05-2004 - 9:08am
Like millions of other Americans, I voted for John Kerry, based upon my commitment to the morals I value most highly:

Kerry spoke of the war in Iraq in a way that indicated to me that he possesses an empathic and sophisticated understanding of our complex world dynamics: An awareness of how our actions, as the world's strongest nation, can create a ripple effect on the rest of the world... and how we have created a self-fulfilling prophesy by attacking a nation already prone to violence without just cause. And because of his understanding and his promises during the convention, I trusted Kerry to un-do some of the damage that has been created by the U.S.'s unjustified invasion of Iraq and I trusted that his approach would have helped to curb the rise in terrorist recruits.

As a psychologist, I work with many "little countries" in my office everyday-- families that are full of hate and blame and warring attitudes... when a parent blames and punishes a child, who is already prone to act out aggressively anyway, for something he actually did NOT do, that kid will often act out worse to show his outrage, if he's genetically pre-wired to act out. And if the parent is unempathic to why the kid feels outraged, and instead, justifies the wrongful blame and punishment by saying: "Well, look at how badly he's behaving now-- he needs to be punished", the parent is setting the kid up for even more acting out.)

I think it's absolutely crazy-making to the Arab world for the U.S. to pin something on the Iraqis (or their dictator) that they're not guilty of... Arabs are sort of like the bad seed in the world's family. And the U.S. is like the big Parent in this world, strong enough to dish out punishments at will or provide love and charity if we desire. I believe that false accusations of Iraq/Saddam primed the Iraqis to take the path that is most natural to them-- violent acting out through their terrorist cause, because they don't have the skill to "use their words". (I cite the genetic research below that explains why some people are more likely to act out with aggression than others.)

When the President shifted the rationale for the war from "imminent threat to the U.S." to the plight of the Iraqi people, that was even more crazy making. There should have been an apology at that point.

Now that the Iraqi people are staging a civil war against each other and a rebellious resistence to U.S. intrusion, the President and many Americans are now using their reaction as the justification for the invasion... "well, look at all those 'terrorists' acting out-- I guess it's a good thing we invaded so we can fight them on their own turf instead of letting it come to us." This justification is even more crazy-making to the Arab people. The Iraqis were minding their own business until we went over and opened up this hornet's nest! Now they're doing what oppressed Muslims do-- they're aggressing... and we help to set them up. (It's not 100% our fault that they've responded this way, but we do bare some culpability.)

Here's the model that explains how some people are more likely to become aggressive than others: Repeatedly, the research has shown that the use of bullying parenting techniques (such as intimidation and pre-emptive aggression) to shape behavior elicits initial behavioral compliance, but is followed up by distrust, aggression, and sociopathic behavior in a large percentage of subjects (Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 1997; 151:761-767). An international team of researchers has discovered a gene that pre-disposes one third of males to aggression, and when abused as children, 85% of these pre-disposed males will turn to violent criminal activity as adults (Science, 297:851-853, 2002). Clearly, among certain segments of the population, bullying and aggression begets more bullying and aggression, creating a never-ending cycle of violence.

What helps kids who have been wrongly punished or accused is a simple "I'm sorry" from their mom and dad and an appreciation for how upsetting it was to be accused of something s/he didn't do... these are healing words from a parent that has made a mistake. I believe that the U.S. is in the parenting role and has a duty to say "we were wrong and we're sorry" to the Iraqi people-- to the sons and daughters that lost their civilian moms and dads... and to the civilian moms and dads that lost their babies. Kerry's words during the convention conveyed to me that he would have made an apology to the world.

The ability to be empathic and the ability to show remorse when you've made a mistake are rudimentary to strong character and to moral development.





iVillage Member
Registered: 10-27-2004
Fri, 11-05-2004 - 9:14am
The following is my resposne to mom2three who stated on another thread: "Saying sorry would only embolden them, not change their behaviour. If we say we are sorry they will see it as weakness."



Hi -- thanks, again, for taking the time to explain your thoughts. It is very helpful to read your articulation of why an apology feels pointless. I understand your belief that an apology will "enbolden" the terrorists and that they will see the apology as "weakness", rather then being healed by our honesty.

You are right-- an apology would probably do just that for the terrorists. And you are in good company, as many people feel exactly as you do on this topic. In fact, it is human nature to approach this situation from your stand point. (Your thinking is the same strategy that most people use when dealing with anyone (or group) that is paranoid and pre-conditioned to strike. For example... if you have a rather paranoid spouse, admitting that you are wrong is difficult to do, because an admission of any guilt can invite the paranoid person to attack you with charges that go beyond your offense: "See I told you you were up to no good!", rather than appreciating the apology. So the person who has committed a wrong (with a small "w") towards the paranoid individual often bites his/her tongue rather than apologizing, because s/he does not want to listen to the exaggerated craziness and abuse that will be dished out by the paranoid partner, once an apology has been issued.)

But, naturally, I whole-heartedly disagree with your thought process as a rationale for not apologizing :-) First of all, we need to apologize because it is the moral thing to do, regardless of outcome. Secondly, while the extremists will undoubtedly see us as weak, and will spew their lies (with or without an admission), you underestimate the healing powers of an apology for the rest of the Arab community-- the masses who are more moderate, but vulnerable to embracing extremism if the conditions are right. Apologizing to the Arab world would be healing and would, in turn, help to curb the recruitment to the terrorist cause. (The most vulnerable to terrorism are the Arab youth, mostly male, who are often educated and disillusioned when they see that their culture has little to offer them... the U.S. makes a perfect "poison container" for all their rage, because it's not safe to be angry with their oppressive leaders.) Apologizing to the masses can provide a corrective emotional experience to the youth who expect us to behave badly.

While I believe that most extremists in the muslim world are unreachable at this point, here's the reason that I believe that an apology to the Arab masses would be healing: By apologizing for our mistakes, we would be showing the moderate masses who we really are. If all they've been fed is lies, and then they see us telling more untruths, invading their country and killing their people, then the lies seem to match up with their expectations and confirm for them what they've already been taught. An apology to the masses is the single most powerful thing that we can do: It is providing them with new input, rather than the same old lies that they've been told. If we tell the truth-- something their leaders never do-- then we are providing the Arab world with new data about who we are and how we behave... data that is refreshing, data that is healing. And little, by little, with decent behavior, we can chip away at their age old perceptions.

Will this work on every Arab? No. Will this heal those who are listening 100%? No-- their problems go beyond anything that we've done to them. But, will it help slow down the recruitment to the terrorist cause? Absolutely. If the Arab world can see that we are not as they were taught, they may take notice of who we are on their own, rather than swallowing the hateful rhetoric that their leaders allow them to learn. This process will, in turn, help the moderate masses to stay moderate, rather than pushing them towards a more extreme model for coping with the intrusion of the West.

And lastly, apologizing to the Arab world and world at large will help to create good will towareds the U.S. We went from being huge victims after 9/11 to huge perpetrators in the world's eyes, because of our refusal to own our mistakes with an apology. We need our neighbors and allies to keep an eye out for us... if we don't make amends, we risk that our neighbors may retalliate through passive aggression-- with-holding intelligence data that may be important to us down the road, and may help us to prevent future terrorist attacks.

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I offer you my perspectives, based upon multiple relationships with Muslim/Arab colleagues and patients... Palestinian, Afghani, Egyptian, Iranian. They talk about their pain with the U.S. quite frequently. They discuss their wish that the U.S. would extend an olive branch to them, and show an appreciation of their suffering when they lose loved ones.

Also, I have worked with a number of paranoid patients that were terribly abused as children-- and often lied to by their parents in very crazy-making ways over and over. Each of these patients started out their treatment with very suspicious attitudes, often hurling insulting remarks every time they felt failed by me in their treatment. What has been the most healing to these patients has been my willingess to own my mitakes, without defensiveness, coupled with my refusal to lose myself in their spray of accusations... if they heaped more on me than I deserved, I would set the record straight. If they became insulting, I would let them know that they crossed a line, but I never turned nasty or never minimized their hurt.

Underneath these types of patients' attacks is always deep hurt... and if you can withstand the initial assaults, after you apologize, these paranoid/suspicious patients will calm down and eventually allow themselves to take in new data. What is the new data? All authority figures do not lie-- this one (me) actually admits when she is wrong, and doesn't bullsh-t me, unlike my mom or dad. Then, if if one of these patients gets suspicious and projects all kind of crap on me that is far removed from reality, they tend to believe me when I set the record straight, because they trust that I won't lie about it when I do mess up. Telling the truth is the antidote to paranoia.