Monday, November 28, 2011

Apologies Have a Time and a Place

Do apologies have any value to modern heathens?  In the simplest of terms, the vast majority of heathens believe that a meaningful apology that includes heartfelt regret, dedicated action to fix or mitigate the harm that was done, and a commitment not to cause the same harm again is a worthy approach to correcting harm you have done to another.  The majority of heathens also believe very strongly that just saying "sorry" or expressing other regretful words without actually fixing a serious harm you have caused is an empty approach, and has little worth.  Often, those that offer hollow apologies are likely to cause the same harm over and over again, because they have invested nothing in actually correcting their past harmful actions.

In transitioning from the modern majority culture in which we were raised to cultural values and a way of life based on the beliefs of our heathen Ancestors, there is always the risk of going too far. An area where heathens sometimes miss the mark, is in the area of apologies and correcting harm they have done to another.  There are heathens that simply refuse to ever say the word "sorry" or offer what most people would regard an apology, regardless of the context.  These heathens will offer to correct wrongs they have caused, but almost as a matter of principle they will very pointedly say, "But I'm not going to apologize for what I did."


Our heathen ancestors and most modern heathens believe that if you cause harm to another person, simply stating a verbal apology does not truly make up for the harm you have done.  To truly make up for harm you have done either intentionally or accidently, you must seek to reverse or mitigate the harm you have done.  In order to preserve the honor of everyone involved, it is appropriate for the one who did harm to approach the harmed party, and offer Shyld (obligation) for the harm you have done.  When the harmed party agrees to an appropriate Shyld and the harming party has paid the Shyld, then the matter is settled.  Honor is restored.  Both parties can move beyond it.

Shyld can take many forms.  If you have said something harmful and false about a person in public, Shyld might consist of publicly denouncing what you previously said, admitting you were wrong, and publicly declaring the truth.  If you have caused a problem between two people, Shyld might consist of bringing those two people together and making things right.  If you have damaged something belonging to someone else, Shyld might consist of paying for that item or replacing it.  There are times when Shyld might consist of a monetary payment or gift of value given to the harmed party in order to fulfill the obligation that is owed in return for the harm that was done. 

Often, you can tell when someone is a new heathen or when someone does not quite understand the concept of Honor and Shyld, when they expect a simple apology to make up for a serious harm they have caused.  These new heathens will often be completely shocked that a simple "I'm sorry" doesn't make up for what they have done.  This most likely occurs because the modern majority culture teaches the importance of both seeking and giving forgiveness.  "Repent and you shall be forgiven."  As a reaction against these often worthless verbal apologies and the beliefs of the majority culture, you will sometimes hear heathens espousing the point of view that one should never apologize.  You'll sometimes hear them brag about "never saying the word sorry."  But this reaction against apologizing in any form misses the point of apologizing, and what it means when you apologize properly and with meaning and action to back your words.

An apology is an acknowledgement that you have caused harm, and that you feel regret as to the harm you have caused.  Apologies have their time and place.


You bump into someone.  You sit in someone else's chair on accident.  You say something mildly insensitive to someone.  You get in someone's way going through a doorway.  You reveal something minor about someone in front of the wrong person.  You arrive 10 minutes late for an appointment.  You make any small mistake.

These errors, slips-of-mind, or accidents are fairly inconsequential.  In most cases, there is very little harm to fix and it is hardly worth negotiating a Shyld to settle the matter.  But, there is still a value to acknowledging the error, the slip-of-mind, or the accident and expressing regret that it occurred.  A failure to acknowledge the minor harm you caused and your regret that it happened, is likely to cause a bigger problem with the harmed party than the original minor harm initially caused.   In these cases, saying sorry serves to move both the harmed party and the harming party beyond the small harm that was done without making a mountain out of a molehill.


Friends, relatives, and other loved ones share bonds of trust and understanding that make them part of an inner circle or "Innangarth."  These understandings play a role in resolving situations where harm has been caused between loved ones.  Depending on the context of the harm done, this can work in two ways.

First, we give friends and loved ones a certain amount of latitude or the benefit of the doubt. For this reason, harm that might require Shyld from a stranger may sometimes be resolved between loved ones with a simple apology.  Especially if the harm done was the first incident of that type between the harmed party and the harming party.

On the other hand, the relationships between friends, relatives, and other loved ones are immensely important and worth going the extra-mile to preserve.  So even if a simple apology might resolve a matter between loved ones, there are times when it is advisable to both apologize and perform Shyld to correct the harm you've done.


We live in a majority culture that does not always understand our heavy emphasis on "correcting the harm we've done" rather than just saying "sorry."  Many of our neighbors, co-workers, friends, and even family that are not heathen would rather hear the word "sorry," than have the harm fixed by you.  This is a cultural, and in some cases, religious belief on their party.  So, while it may be worth it for you to attempt to educate them about your own views on the subject, there are times where a verbal apology really is the only Shyld (obligation) that the harmed party will accept.

As a heathen, your personal honor may require that once you have offered this sought-after verbal apology, you then voluntarily take actions to fix or mitigate the harm you have caused, even though the harmed party does not require it of you.  In this way you preserve your own beliefs and way of life, while still functioning effectively within a majority culture that does not entirely understand your point-of-view.  On the other hand, if you take the overly rigid position that "I never say the word sorry," you are likely to unnecessarily lose friends, jobs, and other important things in your life.


I think this is the area where a verbal apology plays its most valuable role.  There is no harm at all in acknowledging the harm you have done and expressing regret that it occured by saying "sorry" or "I apologize," just prior to offering Shyld to mitigate the harm you have done.  Actually, your expression of verbal regret is helpful in putting the Shyld you are offering into context for the harmed party.  If your expression of regret is heartfelt, meaningful, and respectful then the negotiation of Shyld and the chances of putting the matter completely behind you is greatly increased.  It goes without saying though, that this verbal apology is simply an introduction to your offer of Shyld and not a replacement for the Shyld you owe for the harm you have done.


Empty verbal apologies are almost always hollow and worthless.  A verbal apology for a serious harm you have caused is rarely, if ever, sufficient.  But there is a time and a place for verbal apologies, and a rigid, "I never say the word sorry" approach removes an important and meaningful tool in human interaction.  Minor matters, harms caused between loved ones and friends, and situations involving people still fully immersed in the majority culture are sometimes best resolved with a simply offer of regret over what happened.  And a verbal expresion of regret offered as a prelude to offering Shyld is an effective way of connecting with the person with which you wish to reconcile.  As it is with so many other topics, the issue of whether or not a heathen should verbally apologize is much more complicated than some would make it, and is heavily dependent on the context of the situation and the seriousness of the harm that was done.

Mark Ludwig Stinson
Jotun's Bane Kindred
Temple of Our Heathen Gods

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