Why is it that our prisons are full, countries and groups are forever waging war, and wherever we go, we are exposed to mistreatment? Is it because we were made from clay, and like pottery, we are fragile and imperfect? No matter how magnificent a ceramic work of art is, it remains delicate and must be handled with care. Are we any different? Won’t a harsh word, a critical look, or angry shove shatter the person it’s directed at?
Because of our imperfections, we occasionally say and do hurtful things. That’s why the two most important words are “I apologize.” True, an apology cannot undo the harm already done, but at least it can restore the dignity of the victim.
Some are fearful of apologizing, believing it to be a sign of weakness. They don’t want to appear submissive or hand over power to another. But when they committed their hurtful acts, weren’t they aggressive, and didn’t they usurp the power of the victim? So, it is only fitting that they reverse roles by sincerely expressing their sorrow for acting inappropriately.
When one offends someone, they’ve done the wrong thing; not to apologize is to refuse to do the right thing and compound the offense. Refusing to apologize is not a sign of strength but weakness. After all, one who refuses to say they’re sorry acts out of fear, but one who admits they were wrong and asks for forgiveness acts out of courage.
What do you do if your apology is rejected? Respect the right of the victim to do so. Yet, if your misconduct was not exceptionally grave and your apology was sincere, their refusal to accept it makes them equally guilty, for now they are being hurtful. At such a time, don’t perpetuate the problem by expressing anger. Rather, acknowledge that you’ve arrived at this point because of your own misconduct, accept the humiliation, forgive the person you offended, and move on.
Ironically, our misconduct can act as a blessing in disguise, for it is an opportunity to awaken to our faults, express remorse, and change our ways by repenting. It is an opportunity for spiritual growth. Remember, however, that this opportunity came about at the expense of another, so don’t forget the pain you inflicted and do everything in your power to eliminate it.
Both Jesus and Muhammad (570? ~ 632 AD) spoke highly about repentance. Christ said, “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7). Similarly, Muhammad taught, “A sincere repenter of faults is like him who has committed none.” An apology, then, can be an important first step in the process of repentance. I refer to it as a process because repentance is not about FEELING sorry or SAYING, “Sorry!” But it is about DOING something about it; it is about making amends, making up for the harm already done. We can offend someone in the blink of an eye and apologize just as quickly, but making up for it can take time, so be prepared to invest that time.
More reasons for and benefits of apologizing include the following 1) Justice and fairness demand that we apologize any time we hurt others. 2) It is an opportunity to grow more spiritual by practicing humility. 3) It is a gift we offer our victim, for by showing them they are worthy of an apology, we are offering them respect and restoring the esteem we took away by the offense. 4) It can heal damaged relationships, for by apologizing, you are expressing that the relationship is important to you and you want to make amends. 5) When you recognize and accept your weaknesses, you’ll be better able to do the same for others, which is important because people are imperfect, mistakes will be made, and apologies will have to be accepted to restore harmony.
Still other reasons and benefits include 6) We allow our victim to grow spiritually by offering the gift of forgiveness to us. 7) By accepting responsibility and showing respect for the injured party, we may actually strengthen the relationship. 8) By recognizing that we have acted inappropriately, we are beginning to act appropriately and mend our ways. 9) By making up for our misconduct, we will be free from remorse, regret, guilt, and unhappiness. Instead of being ashamed of our behavior, we will become proud of it.
A further point is so important, it deserves its own paragraph. Apologies play a crucial role in family life. Parents need to treat their children with dignity and apologize when they are wrong. Likewise, children need to treat their parents with respect and say they are sorry when they misbehave. But how can children do so unless they learn from the example of their parents? Parents that are constantly squabbling set a poor example. Husbands and wives must beware of taking their mate for granted. Being married is no excuse for treating your partner unfairly and rudely. On the contrary, no one is more worthy of respect and appreciation than your spouse, so if you occasionally slip up, apologize as quickly as possible and make amends. Apologies and forgiveness, like love and trust, begin with a decision, so make a decision today to never take your spouse or children for granted. If you commit to them, they will commit to you.
An apology isn’t complete unless we take all of the following steps. 1) Apologize quickly because you do not know how soon it will be too late. 2) Admit what you did. 3) Express your sorrow. 4) Be sincere by speaking from the heart and feeling the victim’s pain. 5) Give your victim the opportunity to vent their feelings. 6) Make up for the harm you’ve done by taking corrective action, offering compensation, or making restitution. 7) Learn from the experience. For as Robert South (1634 ~ 1716) has aptly written, “True repentance has a double aspect; it looks upon things past with a weeping eye, and upon the future with a watchful eye.” 8) If your victim accepts your apology, accept their pardon with gratitude.
We have seen how our missteps, mistakes, and misbehaviors can prove to be a valuable opportunity to become a better person. Nevertheless, it remains true that the greatest gift we can offer others is to lead a life that doesn’t need any apologies. Although it is hardly likely that any of us can reach that ideal, we must cling to it to limit the damage we cause. I hope you don’t mind if I end here, because I can carry out something far more valuable by apologizing to someone I recently offended.