UH OH. NOW YOU’VE REALLY DONE IT!
You’ve messed up big time! You said something you shouldn’t have, did something you shouldn’t have, let someone down, hurt someone’s feelings, took something that didn’t belong to you, gossiped, lost your temper, made false assumptions, took someone for granted. You’ve hurt someone you love, someone with whom you work, a neighbor, a friend or a relative.
It’s time to pay the piper. Your debt has come due. You need to apologize.
The Debt of Apology.
Why do we say, “I owe you an apology.”?
Apology is a debt of sorts. When we hurt, let down or disappoint someone, we have taken something from them. Usually that something is trust. Lose your temper with a loved one, and you’ve taken away their trust that you will treat her with respect and love. Let down an employer, and you’ve taken away his trust that you will do your job. Gossip about a friend, and you have taken away his trust that you will treat him with respect. Strike out at your child, and you have taken away his trust that he will always be safe with you.
It is your relationships that are on the line when it comes to paying the debt of apology.
If you value your relationships, you have to work at earning and keeping the trust of those people whose relationships you value. That’s why when you mess up and we all do, it’s best to apologize right away.
The Art of Apology.
An offhanded, “sorry” isn’t enough. Throwing the word out there is meaningless unless you also communicate that you truly understand how you hurt the other person and what you intend to do to make things right.
Here are some ideas for making meaningful apologies:
– Timing is critical. Apologize as soon as possible. Don’t let the anger, hurt or resentment stew in its own juices. It will only grow.
– Deal directly with the person you have offended. Don’t e-mail, call or send someone else to apologize for you. Think about what you need to say and then talk to the person face to face if at all possible.
– Tell the other person that you value your relationship with him or her and that you want to make things right.
– Ask for the other person’s view of what you did and how it made him or her feel.
– Explain what you did. Tell the whole story. Leave nothing out, because what you leave out will ruin whatever trust you are trying to re-build if the person hears about it later. Tell the whole truth. Admit that you were foolish, lazy, too short tempered or whatever the infraction was.
– Don’t make excuses for yourself. Never say, “You made me mad.” You are ALWAYS responsible for your own feelings and actions. ALWAYS.
– Pay the debt by doing something to make things right with the offended person, because actions speak louder than words.
The Yin and Yang of Apology and Forgiveness.
Hopefully, the offended party will forgive you. But, understand that this may not happen right away. Forgiveness can take time, and it may not come to you just because you have asked for it. Hurting someone’s feelings has consequences. The apology may be an ongoing process as you continue to work toward earning back the trust the offended party has lost in you.
Whereas apology is a debt to pay, forgiveness is a gift to be given. They are wrapped up in each other. Both apology and forgiveness are behaviors that often must be learned. They don’t come easy to many of us. We think it’s easier to hold the grudge or refuse to lower ourselves to the level of apology. Both behaviors, the refusal to apologize and the refusal to forgive, are relationship killers, particularly when the behaviors are both present in a relationship. Learning to apologize can begin to break the stalemate that often occurs.
The Soul of Apology.
In reality, you don’t “lower” yourself to apology. Rather, you stand up tall and admit that you made a mistake. Such an admission is a mark of courage, not fear. Working to earn back the trust of a loved one is a sign of strength rather than weakness. Recognizing your mistake is a sign of intelligence, and working to change your behavior is a sign of growth.
The soul of apology is love. When you love someone, you feel what he or she is feeling. That’s called empathy, and it is the very hallmark of humanity. It is what separates us from the lower forms of life.
After you have apologized to the injured party, then work on forgiving yourself. Use the situation as an opportunity for learning about yourself and the one you hurt. Then ask God’s forgiveness. He’s the only one who always forgives!