Saturday, August 31, 2013

'Sorry' Seems to be the Hardest Word

Apologizing cleanses relationships
Why can it sometimes be so hard to apologize? What is it about an apology that makes it so terrible for a person to issue? So often it seems that one person who wrongs another would rather sit stubbornly in denial, self-guilt or some other self-important pot of goo rather than acknowledge they have acted wrongly or moved in some unintentional way that has hurt another human being.
               Then there are the times when a group of people participate in an action that most recognize as a situation in which an apology is in order, yet there is none. Individuals, groups of people, it happens everywhere. It’s also done between nations, often with deadly consequences. One country somehow negatively impacts another and, in the name of saving face, would rather risk war than apologize. So what is it about making an apology that is so terrible that mortal combat is often seen as preferable to a peaceful solution by being humble?
               I’ve seen and heard on more than one occasion scenarios in which person A refuses to apologize to person B only to witness person B’s death. The result? Person A condemns himself to lifelong guilt for having never made peace with the departed. I have also heard of people who take their hardness to their own grave by failing to make amends with someone they slighted in a major way. Wonder what the afterlife is like for them?
               Sadly, many regard apologies as a sign of weakness. This has been reinforced by courtroom lawyers who have taught us not to apologize, warning that's the path to being sued. Politicians reinforce this position by not working together and perpetuating the ‘weakness argument’ and further suggesting that to apologize akin to appeasement.
               The irony in all this is how we insist our children behave. When witnessing kids commit transgressions, what’s the order of business? Make them apologize. Guess it must be a case of, ‘Do as I say, not as I do.’
Ahh... that's better!
               There’s a brighter side. Apologies can have a cleansing effect – one that impacts both sides of a relationship. On one side, there's the person who has committed either a perceived or actual affront to one or more individuals. On the other are those who have been hurt, emotionally, physically or even spiritually. An authentic apology for some reason has the capacity to affect both parties in terms of the negative energy or whatever you want to call it. The result, at least from my experience, is that opportunities present themselves that allow people to begin anew. Good things can happen.
               Issuing apologies are like stepping outside after a heavy rain shower. All is calm come, all is right. Sometimes. Of course, all this assumes the apology is sincere. When it is, the air is clear and so is your conscience. But don't get it twisted; apologies don't let a person off the hook for something they've done. Instead what they seem to do, again when they are real and authentic, is lay the groundwork for repairing and/or building relationships.
               Still, so many of us see apologies as insignificant gestures. After all, actions speak louder than words, and I'm totally in agreement with that. But words can often be a good start, or even a great one. That’s because when properly rendered they can set into motion a conversation or chain of events that can diffuse an accidental situation or create a pathway through which healing can occur around a more intentional one. At the very least they have the potential to infuse a healthy dose of humanity. And that can lead to forgiveness. But that's a whole other conversation.

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