Tuesday, February 23, 2016

An apology is not a humiliation

A true apology is more than just acknowledgment of a mistake. It is arecognition that something you have said or done has damaged a relationship, which you care enough about to want it repaired and restored.

It's never easy. Admitting to being in the wrong hurts. But once you make yourself face up to it and swallow your pride, it can be a wonderfully cleansing and healing thing. Look back with sincerity and honesty and reflect how often you've judged harshly, said unkind things, pushed yourself ahead at the expense of a friend.

Then count the occasions when you indicated clearly and trulythat you were sorry. A bit scary, isn't it? Scary because some deep wisdom in us knows that when even a small wrong has been committed, some mysterious ethical equilibrium is disturbed; and it stays out of balance until fault is acknowledged and regret expressed.

Heartfelt apology

I remember a physician friend telling me about a man who came to him with a variety of symptoms: headaches, insomnia, gastric disturbances. No physical cause could be found. Finally the Doctor said to the man, "Unless you tell me what's on your conscience, I can't help you."

After agonised hesitation, the man confessed that, as executor of his father's estate, he had been defrauding his brother, who lived abroad, of his inheritance.

Then and there the wise old doctor made the man write to his brother asking forgiveness, and promising he would deposit some money in his brother's local Bank account as the first step inreparation.

Two days' later, he came to see the Doctor. "Thank you, Doctor" he said. "I've posted the letter and Bank slip. Now, I think I'm cured." And he was.

A heartfelt apology can not only heal a damaged relationship but make it stronger. Long years ago, when I was employed as a Senior Manager in a company, there was considerable criticism of my work. A visiting consultant I knew said some very disparaging things. When they were repeated to me, I had to swallow them in unhappy silence. .

Then one day I got a letter from him. Going through my achievements carefully he had realised that he had been wrong in his evaluation of me, and hoped I would accept his apology.

Well! Any antagonism I may have felt disappeared in a flash. I felt warm affection for this man, and I wrote an instant reply, telling him so. We have been good friends ever since.

Sometimes people hesitate to apologise for fear of being rebuffed.

That painful possibility always exists, but the risk is low. The founders of all religions urged all of us to forgive. Why? Because they knew that acceptance of an apology clearsresentment from the heart-and resentment is a crippling thing. Whowants to experience hurt and angerover and over?

Say "sorry'

How, then, does one say, "I'm sorry"? I have worked out a few guidelines out of my experience.

1. If you cannot bring yourself to put an apology into words, send a signal. After a quarrel, flowers can ease the sting of harsh words remembered. A small gift can convey regret - and the permanence of affection. The touch of a hand can restore broken communications. Never underestimate this silent language of the heart.

2. Remember that offering an apology is not a humiliation; it's aform of maturity and honesty. Great souls can apologise. Winston Churchill's first impressions of Harry Truman were far from flattering. Later he told Truman that he had badly underestimated him -an apology wrapped in a handsome compliment.

3. Unless an apology contains genuine contrition, the healing process cannot take place. Make sure that you really mean it.

4. Apologise with dignity-on your feet, not on your knees. You are trying to put wrong things right, and this deserves respect.

5. When an apology is due, offer it promptly. Delay makes it more difficult-and sometimes makes it impossible. I was serving on the Board of a voluntary organisation when a brash young assistant giving three 'good' reasons, proposed that he should replace the director. We voted for the change. Within days, it became apparent that we had made a serious mistake; we never should have let the old director go. I made up my mind to tell him so, but before our paths could cross he suffered a fatal heart attack. So my intended apology could not he made-and I feel bad about it to this day.

6. If you feel you are owed an apology and none is forthcoming, try to act rationally, rather than brood or fume. Write a note, or send a message by a mutual friend, explaining why you feel aggrieved and that you would like to get rid of the feeling. If you make it easy for a person to apologise, he often will-chances are he is not happy about the situation either.

7. Try to distinguish between a feeling of regret and the need for apology. If, for example, you are in a position of authority and have to fire someone for incompetence, you may regret it, but it doesn't call for an apology.

If you can think of someone who deserves an apology from you, someone you have wronged, or judged you too harshly, or just neglected, do something about it right now.

Write a note, make a phone call, send a signal - anything that will say, "Here I am, unhappy because there's a barrier between us, wishing we could bridge the gap, willing to take some of the blame or all of it, hoping you'll accept this gesture with the message it contains-the two most healing words in all the world: 'I'm sorry.'"

by Lionel Wijesiri (