Monday, April 26, 2004

the problem lies elsewhere, always, of course

My friend, H, is a Cuban-American convert to Islam. His roommate is an international student from Saudi Arabia. They're both good-natured and funny, and most of the time they get along really well, but once in a while they'll burst out with the arguing and aggravate each other to no end. A few evenings ago, for example, they had a tense disagreement about some irrelevant issue.

H is a softy whose conscience eats away at him whenever someone is upset with him, even if it wasn't his fault in the first place. So he approached the roommate and apologized for whatever he had said in anger the other night. He then looked expectantly at the other boy, anticipating some sort of reciprocal acknowledgement or apology. Instead, his roommate stared back belligerently and retorted, "So. What do you want me to say?"

H's theory is that the roommate has never in his life been expected to apologize for anything wrong he may have said or done, and so the concept of apologizing is foreign to him. I responded that while apologizing takes strength, humility, and courage, the notion is not a given in every society. I think the ability to apologize varies based on one's culture and upbringing. I, for example, hate apologizing or otherwise admitting I'm wrong. This may be due to my strong-willed, temperamental, stubborn Pukhtun roots. Or it may be due to the fact that I'm the rebel child of the family, and conformity has never been my strong suit, even when it comes to admitting another person's viewpoint may have some merit. Or the fact that, when I was a child, my father used to impatiently tell me to stop crying, because crying was a sign of weakness, and so I've come to associate crying - and by default, apologizing - with weakness, and who the hell wants to be weak anyway? Or it could even be because there is no specific phrase in my Hindku dialect that one could use to say in a straightforward, uncomplicated manner, "I am sorry."

Is the ability to apologize with ease based on one's culture and upbringing?


Random conversational tangents are always welcome, as usual.