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The Art of an Apology

An apology is the end of our struggle with our past history. It is the very act of how to disentangle from our past by accepting what truly was, and what truly is. Is there a relationship on your list that could greatly benefit from this act of kindness?

Many words in the English language are hard to get out. In fact, there’s even a Dictionary of Difficult Words. But none are more difficult than these: “I’m sorry. I was wrong. Will you please forgive me?"

Many otherwise articulate people seem to have great difficulty in spitting these words out. They hem and haw. They mumble. They stutter. They may get something close out, but they have a hard time slowly and deliberately saying these 10 simple words, none of them more than three syllables long.

Yet each one of these 10 words is important. Let’s break this down by sentence and structure.

1. I’m Sorry:

Empathy is the ability to put ourselves in another person’s shoes and feel what they feel. This is something we need to develop. It takes humility. Too often, we are preoccupied with our own feelings. Empathy is the recognition that it’s not all about us. Other people matter. They have feelings, too, and their feelings are important.

By saying we are sorry—sincerely and with authentic humility—we validate them as human beings.

We are essentially saying,

  • “I know you are hurt, and I understand."

  • "Your feelings are valid, and I am sorry that I am the cause of them."

  • "I’m not sorry because I got caught or because you called me out. I’m sorry because of the hurt that I caused you.”

2. I Was Wrong:

This is the most difficult sentence of all. Perhaps we live with the mistaken notion that we never do anything wrong. Or perhaps we just think the other person should “give us a pass” because somehow, we deserve it.

The truth is, we all make mistakes. If we are not guilty of sins of commission (i.e., deliberately doing something that offends others), then we are guilty of sins of omission (i.e., failing to do what we ought and thereby offending others).

Religion can help prime the pump here. One of the great things about being a Christian is that it releases us from the need to pretend we are perfect. In fact, when we say the Lord’s Prayer as Catholics and Protestants - there is a line in there that says - “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us...” We have had lots of practice at this with God, but now we need to transfer that grace to others around us.

3. Will You Please Forgive Me?:

This is one of the most powerful sentences we can ever utter. By phrasing this as a question, we acknowledge that forgiveness is not an entitlement. We don’t deserve forgiveness. We are asking for their mercy.

This also acknowledges that it is a choice on the part of the other person. They may withhold their forgiveness. Perhaps they are not ready to make up. They may need some space.

Yet in my experience, almost always the other person says, “I forgive you.” With this simple sentence, both of us are healed, or at least ready to start fresh.

We may be tempted to take shortcuts. We could simply say, “I apologize” or “Sorry.” But nothing is quite as effective as saying all ten words. It may seem awkward or artificial at first, but with practice, it gets easier.

"I’m sorry. I was wrong. Will you please forgive me?"

If you are like me, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to practice.

Some tips for success:

The harmony of the words and body matching up is also a large part of communicating effectively:

  • Square up,

  • Make eye contact,

  • Say it like you mean it,

  • And then shut up and wait for the offended party’s response.

In next week's blog, I'll share more about forgiveness and the consequences of refusing to forgive.

Do you have a family member you'd like to make amends with? I am currently scheduling mediation appointments for the new year. Click the button below to book yours.

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