Posts Tagged ‘dementia’

Amends

November 23, 2018

This is the time when we are supposed to be focused on gratitude, appreciation for the gifts we enjoy, however big or small they may be. I have much for which I am truly thankful, not just on this holiday designated for giving thanks, but every day, day in and day out. Far more than I can or care to enumerate here.

The topic of my recent contemplations has not been all those reasons for gratitude. Instead, I have been reflecting on the difference between patience and tolerance. Also the unacceptable-to-me attitude that ugly behavior must be forgiven whenever the transgressor bothers to say “sorry”.

Sorry, but sorry isn’t good enough. I have no patience with such facile, mostly empty efforts to relieve guilt, and I have even less tolerance for pretending otherwise.

There is great wisdom in the Twelve Step philosophy, whether or not one needs the program to recover from alcoholism or other addictions. The key to recovery is stated as dependent on taking stock, recognizing what harm one has caused, and not just apologizing but making amends. Not just apologizing, but taking concrete steps to right the wrongs one has done, and persisting in this effort long enough to prove that it is sincere.

I find little difficulty being patient with someone who has not yet learned, or who through illness has lost the capacity, to be respectful of others. I tolerate behavior in these circumstances to which I would otherwise not expose myself. Sort of a “no harm, no foul” situation.

Not so when the person behaving disrespectfully not only knows what he/she is doing, but presents him/herself as an upright, righteous – sorry but it’s the religion that most commonly has adherents who boast of this status – “good Christian”. The uprightness is a sham, the righteous claim is actually self-righteousness, and there is nothing either good or truly Christian in the conduct, most notably when the individual pretends apology with a few standard words and then demands forgiveness as a rightful reward for the verbal “sorry”.

Am I bitter and unforgiving? In this instance, you bet I am.

(Also annoyed at the cumbersome he/she but unwilling to give in to using the gender neutral they which has become the go to alternative.)

I have no patience with hypocrisy, and choose not to be tolerant of insincerity masquerading as regret. When I have wronged someone, especially if I have done so inadvertently, and I am sorry for my action, I start the process of apology by changing my actions – I begin to make amends. Naturally I hope that my apology will be accepted but I don’t expect that to be the case immediately. When harm has been done, it takes time and consistently changed experience for the hurt to heal.

Family caring for a  – usually parent – with advanced dementia say the most difficult aspect of that care is not being recognized by the parent. It hurts to have an entire life, one’s shared history, erased. The caregivers learn to tolerate that pain, and to practice patience with the parent, repeating and repeating and reintroducing themselves day after day, sometimes each hour or even each minute. It is not an easy learning process for most caregivers. We do not readily release our need to be recognized, acknowledged, known by those with whom we have been close. Over time, most of these caregivers do let go of hope that things can be returned to “normal” and accept that the dementia has indelibly altered their relationship. A new one can be created, often new on a daily basis, that is enjoyable in a different way.

Absent dementia, there is little that will persuade any of us that others cannot change. We incarcerate to punish but also from a belief that negative consequences will teach the need to alter behavior. We sometimes lessen the punishment if the transgressor demonstrates true regret and an understanding of the harm done. In more enlightened systems, we may allow these latter felons to make amends in a meaningful fashion instead of being locked away. In all cases, we believe that the individual can and should change behavior in future.

Other mental illnesses than dementia prevent people from understanding how their actions cause harm. Absent a mental health diagnosis, we expect that others know what they are doing, and we require that they accept responsibility for their actions. Rightly so.

(It seems to me that much anger in the body politic these days arises from failure of those who can and should be doing so, holding the president accountable for the harm he has done or, among another faction, from failure to recognize that his mental state puts him into the category of illness which demands he be excused from being held responsible, but removed from his position.)

Being held responsible brings us back to amends – actions that reveal one has accepted responsibility for harm and has set out to restore balance and a positive tone to a relationship or situation. I try to be someone who has patience with others and tolerates a fair amount of less-than-pleasing behavior while providing feedback, in hopes of seeing them grow in understanding and change their conduct. Being that person also means that a time does come when I accept that I am not being heard, change is most unlikely and I must cease to interact. No more patience, no more tolerance, no more effort on my part to sustain a relationship, teach new behavior, or otherwise intervene to save the offender from his/her consequences. Time for tough love.

The tough love approach has much in common, to my mind, with the Twelve Step program in that it puts responsibility on the doer, whether actor or enabler, to make changes. Parents using tough love change the nature of supports for their child when they stop rescuing, just as those close to a substance abuser stop enabling the abuse behavior when they take responsibility for, and alter, their own part in the cycle. It then falls to the person whose conduct is failing, to live with their own consequences. If/when there is recognition of a need to change, then amends become possible, and a healing or restoration of relationship may follow.

In both processes, the “make amends” step takes time. Trust must be rebuilt and does not come from a single “sorry”, or even from a stream of them. Actions most definitely speak louder than words in this case. The offender needs to accept that there may never be a restored relationship, that the best to be achieved may just be tolerance of some limited interaction. It becomes the offender’s role to be patient, and persistent in showing respect, regret and a sincere desire for forgiveness.

I have worked with newly released prisoners, and I have stayed in touch with some of them for years afterward, as they fit themselves back into family lives, jobs, and society in the positive way incarceration is supposed to encourage them to learn. (The fact that our Corrections Departments so rarely correct behavior is a sidetrack I do not intend to follow at the moment.) My focus is on the experience of those who do rectify their conduct, and “fly right” from the time of their release. They tell me that ten, fifteen, even twenty years later, their history of criminal conviction does not disappear, but rather continues to require acknowledgment, explanation, and proof of change. “I find myself making amends to people who weren’t even born when I went to prison, for the harm my actions did to the community they were born into.” Said without resentment, but rather with an odd sense of wonder at how consequential seemingly inconsequential acts can be.

I seek to be tolerant of incapacity, and patient in giving guidance and support while learning goes on, but also clear-sighted to recognize when the time has come to put aside these behaviors and put consequences squarely on the head of the person whose conduct is unacceptable. I strive to also then be able to recognize a sincerely repentant individual offering to make meaningful amends, as I strive also to make amends when and where needed, for actions of my own that were hurtful.

Anything less – like a pasted over pretense of social chit-chat masquerading as apology and forgiveness – is an hypocrisy with which I refuse to engage. 

Sorry for that, but so it is.


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