The Word This Generation of Kids Forgot
Whether it’s “my bad” or “mea culpa,” we all learned a few golden words from school and family. Yet for today’s young kids, “sorry” seems to be a rare – and resented – word.
I recently chanced upon my aunt and her 10-year-old son while shopping at the local store. I hadn’t seen my youngest cousin in months, and picked up a Ben 10-inscribed football to buy him as a gift. But before I could ask if he liked it, he snatched the ball from me and made his way to the billing counter.
I was shocked – still more so when I realized his mother had seen everything, but refused to admonish her son for his rudeness.
It gnawed at me. As we left the store, I couldn’t resist asking the boy, “Do you think your behaviour at the store was right?” He shook his head, a mute no. And yet there was no apology forthcoming. His mother, too, didn’t wish to talk about apologies.
“He should be saying sorry,” I told her. She proudly responded, “He will accept his mistake, but ‘sorry’?! That’s a word he never utters.”
The boy heard this and, as if on cue, his demeanor became more arrogant.
My outrage melted, and I suddenly pitied him. But I was also confused. When did this become okay?
The word ‘sorry’ does not have a place in Indian culture. The Sanskrit word kshamaa maangna and its Hindi version, maaf karna, both mean “I apologise,” but in a very specific way, complicated by power and indebtedness. In the olden days of the feudal system, maaf karna was always a debasing phrase used by farmers pleading with their landlord — just pick up any old Bollywood film and see this scenario played out. Other arts also lack depiction of the regret we feel when we say sorry. From the Panchatantra, to the Hitopadesha and the Jataka tales, our folk stories value the virtues of intelligence, courage and speaking the truth — but the power of an apology is hard to find. And while the Nau Rasas of Indian classical dances like Bharatnatyam, Manipuri, and Kathak express nine emotions meant to convey each and every feeling by mankind, only karuna, or compassion, comes close to sorry—even then inching closer to what one feels while forgiving, not apologizing.
So naturally, we borrowed ‘sorry’ from the English lexicon—until recently. My generation was taught the power of an apology, but we seem to have forgotten it. After all, kids are but a mirror image of their parents; maybe the real issue is that my cousin has never seen his parents say the words to another. Today’s parents seem split into two camps: some who force their kids to apologise immediately, almost as a reflex, without understanding the implications of their actions, and others who believe admitting a mistake is a sign of weakness that their children should never show.
A whole generation is being moulded to refuse to say sorry. And, ironically, research says they will probably be a happier lot — a recent study revealed that refusing to apologize is connected to a sense of power that boosts our self-esteem. But while not admitting one’s shortcomings might result in higher self-confidence in the short term, it’s hard to imagine this inability to introspect will provide long term gains or fulfillment. And our children’s adult relationships will suffer.
While the food we cook nourishes them physically, it is in the tiny gestures and manners that we teach our babies that will help them grow, thrive, and improve the lives of those around them. Kind and polite words are a start. But raising a ‘not sorry’ generation will be a failure on our part.
So the next time when a kid refuses to apologise, maybe it is really us who should be saying mea culpa.