Free Dirty Forgotten Sad Child by Pink Sherbert Photography
I'm Sorry: The Lost Art of Apology
I was thinking about cousin Danny today. Danny isn't really a cousin, and his parents weren't really our aunt and uncle, but it was what we grew up calling them. Aunt Betty was actually the adopted daughter of my father's brother Bill. (I will confess I'm on shaky territory here, my sister, Pam is the family historian, but I think I have that right.)
It was probably in the late 60's... I'm guessing that because music has always been such an important part of my life, and for some reason, I also associated the Van Morrison song "Brown Eyed Girl" with Danny. He came to stay with us one summer. I don't really remember why, I was pretty young at the time.
One of Danny's most endearing qualities was the fact that if he did something wrong, you couldn't tell on him. He would literally race you back home to tell "Aunt Mildred" before you could.
This is one of the first essentials of a proper apology; admission of wrong-doing, and acceptance of responsibility. The other essentials are regret, and finally a solution or, at the very least, not repeating the offense.
I think most parents try to instill this into their children. Over and over again, we tell them to "Say you're sorry". As they get older, we sometimes add "...like you mean it".
But something changes as we grow older. It seems that when adults do something wrong, make an honest mistake, or just plain blow it big time, instead of apologizing, they go immediately into damage control. I'm sure you'll recognize the signs, maybe you've even been guilty of at least one of them a time or two yourself. (I know I have!)
1. The cover up. Known in common vernacular as CYA. If you can't cover it up yourself, then you enlist the help of a friend who "has your back".
2. If you get caught, you then engage in Creative Truth, also known as the "little white lie", hoping to cover your tracks.
3. If deception doesn't work, then usually the best defense is a good offense. Yes, you did it, but it wasn't really your fault. It would never have happened if...
Then there are the apologies that aren't really apologies. You know, the ones that start out with phrases such as: "I'd like to apologize..." or "I want to apologize..." That's like trying to do something. "Do or do not, there is no try" as my friend Yoda would say.
Then there's the patronizing, "I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings" as if the person is weak for having feelings that are so easily hurt. Or the "I feel so horrible about this..." as if the person you hurt should comfort you for his or her lack of sensitivity.
It seems that when we are caught doing something wrong, instead of simply apologizing -- or better yet, doing what Danny did and fess up and apologize BEFORE being caught -- we deny and challenge, explain and justify, or clam up and merely grunt or say "okay".
Then I thought about how the Art of Apology goes hand-in-hand with the Art of Forgiveness. Have you ever noticed how much more difficult it is to let something go when you never received an apology? Withholding either of these (apology or forgiveness) keeps you stuck. You can't move forward and get on with your life because you have that anchor of guilt or unforgiveness holding you in place.
I've been there.
James put it this way:
"For where envying and strife is,
there is confusion and every evil work."
Finally, I thought of Jesus, hanging on the cross; wrongly accused, beaten almost to the point of death, his flesh ripped from his body by Roman whips; forced to carry a heavy wooden cross through the streets of Jerusalem as he was taunted, ridiculed and spat upon; nails driven through his hands and feet, and a crown of thorns pressed down onto his head; forsaken by his closest friends, and betrayed by one with a kiss for pieces of silver.
"...Father, forgive them;
for they know not what they do.
And they parted his raiment, and cast lots."
He didn't wait for an apology. He freely forgave.
And so I come full circle. I'm sorry. Any wrongs I feel I have experienced pale in comparison to what was done to the One who gave it all. Freely ye have received, freely give.