Today, though, he really had done something wrong. He had participated in a game that targeted a particular kid in school. This particular child has been bullied for a while and was the target of a fight I broke up a few months ago on the way home form school.
Kids apparently taunt him and avoid being near him. If someone inadvertently touches him, everyone says,"Oh no he/she's got the E--- touch. Don't let him/her touch you!" and they all scatter. The Rationalist was carried along in this game today.
He felt badly about it. Where I would normally reassure him and tell him he was being too hard on himself, I instead agreed that he was wrong. I pointed out how terrible it would be to go to school every day and not have just one or two kids be bratty to you, but to have whole groups of kids making fun of you over and over again...to be the object of a game....to be ignored and excluded by just about everyone.
"You're better than that," I said to The Rationalist.
The Rationalist declared he was going to apologize to E---. After probing a little more, I discovered that E--- was unaware of what was going on. I told The Rationalist that apologizing would probably cause more harm than good, because the only way to apologize would be to reveal to E--- that he had been targeted again.
"Sometimes, when you make a bad choice, there is no solution. There's no way to take back what you've done. Sometimes an apology can't make things right. The only way to make things right is not to do what you did again."
The Rationalist was not happy with this speech. He had hoped that he would be able to assuage his guilt with an apology and receive forgiveness.....because that's how we do things at home.
When one of us loses it and yells, or acts particularly obnoxious, or is simply grumpy and short-tempered(adults included) an apology and forgiveness is soon to follow....if not soon, then eventually. ;-)
In the rest of the world, without loving, established relationships motivating reconciliation, apologies can be weak medicines indeed, especially if they are not turning points towards new, better behaviors. Everyone knows what it's like to receive an apology as an insincere appeasement......as a placeholder stopping up the gap before the next offense.
Should I have told my son that he disappointed God, or that he made the baby Jesus cry? That he was in danger of hellfire?
No. It would have done no good.
He didn't need more motivation to know how wrong what he had done was. He already knew that. What he needed was a way forward, an acknowledgment that he was off the mark, but that it didn't mean that he had to stay there.