The thing that makes my connection to the divine most difficult in this life is my connection with other people. It’s easy to be holy when you are alone but for most of us that is not an option nor would we want it to be. So in my quest for peace in my heart I have to learn to deal with others. A big part of that for all of us is learning how to say, ”I’m sorry.”
Most of the time my work driving school bus is a wonderfully rewarding job and full of smiles and giggles but the other day one of the students on my bus was so badly behaved I had to “write her up” which is an absolute last resort in my book. This morning when she got on the bus she graciously apologized for her misbehavior. When I asked he to apologize to the other students who had been affected by that bad behavior she also did that without hesitation. It was done just like that. We went back to being the little travelling family we are. The tension was gone. The looks of disapproval were gone. We were disarmed by her genuine apology. We all learned some things I’m sure and now we move forward better for the experience.
That is how apology works.
In Canada we are highly criticized for our constant “I’m sorry” statements but I for one am proud I live in a country where apologies are still given so that reconciliation can begin. This morning I read our new Prime Minister visiting a Shoal Lake 40 First Nation, learning how they live without the benefit of press at his side. He wants to begin to make it right. It’s a long road with our First Nations peoples. We have much to apologize for but we are doing it. (Read more about the PM’s visit.)
In our personal lives apologizing is not so easy. An article in Today Health suggests it difficult to say we are sorry greatly because of fear. Fear of rejection, of getting the cold shoulder, of not being forgiven, of losing a friend, that we will be seen as weak and because it makes us feel vulnerable. Some even fear losing their power and that they will be seen as incompetent or inadequate.
The article also says some prefer denial to apologies and their logic is, “If you don’t admit you’ve done anything wrong, then it’s almost like not doing anything wrong at all. If there is no admission of fault, then there is no need to take responsibility.”
Saying I’m sorry is not winning or losing. In fact is a win win according to studies on the subject. An article in the Huffington Post says, “When participants received an apology after the conflict, the research team found that the level of forgiveness towards the transgressor rose significantly…Furthermore, the level of anger the individuals felt towards the ‘offender’ significantly decreased after the apology.”
It goes on to explain there are three necessary elements to an apology:
1. Say I’m sorry
2. Offer Compensation
3. Take responsibility
While the first two are hard the last may be the most difficult of all. That is the part where you are not allowed to say “but”. You can’t blame the person you are offering the apology to or you are in fact retracting the “I’m sorry” statement.
In the Christian tradition we have been given the gift of forgiveness. We are encouraged to admit our our faults to one another and to hurry to those we have offended in order to ask for their forgiveness. As those who are being asked forgiveness we are encouraged to embrace the “sinner” and recognize we have also failed and need to bestow on them the same mercy we would want to receive.
As a country we have big steps to take in our story of truth and reconciliation to our Native peoples, spearheaded many years ago by the United Church of Canada.
As people who live with other people we only have to say the words, offer to fix the damage that we can, maybe buy flowers, and say I goofed up. That allows us all to move on down the road, stronger and better for the experience.