A Story of Sorry


Hamilton’s death in the famous duel with Burr illustrates many things—the political conflicts of the day, the class division between the two men, the obligations of an honor culture.  But one thing that I don’t believe has ever been commented on is possibly the most obvious: how hard it is for a man to say I’m sorry, even if his life is depending on it.  Bump somebody on the sidewalk, and the word comes out pretty much automatically.  “Oh, sorry!”  Nothing hard about that.  But accidentally shaft a rival at work, costing him a promotion, or maybe even his job and–?  Nothing.  A snicker, probably.  Hey, it was an accident!  But the victim of this little piece of office politics is even less likely to get an apology if he makes an issue of it.  For now “face” is involved.  Face is a concept well known to Hamilton.  It’s status, self-worth, standing, virtue.  Men go a long way to save it.  An apology admits fault, and costs “face.”  But, of course, without an apology, the gulf between the two men only grows.  The victim of this little office mishap turns into an opponent, then an active antagonist, and finally a sworn enemy who is now determined to bring you down.  He’s become Burr, and he’s gunning for you.   He’s going to make you sorry.


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