I don’t know what it is about having to say you’re sorry, but it is, perhaps, one of the hardest things many of us have to do or should do if we’ve crossed the line or intentionally (or not) caused harm to someone else.
Now, no worries about me…I haven’t done anything that I need to do a shout out apology for (yes, I’m joking), and certainly not here on the radio… but, lately, as I have been listening to some of my friends talk about their hurt feelings, it occurred to me that we would all do better if we’d just admit we messed up and said we’re sorry.
No need to belabor the point, but, with honesty and sincerity, say the words that some just need to hear for Pete’s sake, and stop the wound from going deeper and wider, because what ends up happening is that the small and tiny cut caused by you, is focused on by them—the ones who felt slighted—and then they twist and turn and make the wound larger by picking at it until it become a mess. And, as you well know, they don’t take responsibility for causing the greater harm—they just blame you. And the kicker is this, you could have stopped the trouble before it began, but you chose not to and now look at the mess you have to live with and all your friends have to hear about.
A while back, I wrote a quote to remind myself not to react, but to move on after I felt that I had been treated unfairly by someone… my quote is this.
Be kinder than expected and more gracious than necessary.
Why? Because sometimes you and I have to do the hard thing, and make the right move to clear the air or set the record straight and keep our friendships, our family or our colleagues in the clear by giving up a bit of our pride to make others feel valued.
And to state the obvious, the underpinning of this issue is pride, and while you may be right, you need to consider how this will play out in the end. I know it is hard to do, especially when you want to be right and not have to give in again to someone else.
A lot of our troubles could be sidestepped if we would own up to our mistakes or at the very least make amends for harm or trouble we cause.
So let me give you some ideas on how to take control of the mess that has been made, so we can all live happily in the peaceable kingdom.
I like the work of Dr. Guy Grenier. He is a psychologist and marital therapist and he speaks a lot about apologies. He admits that, saying you’re sorry isn’t always easy, so here are some tips:
- The best way to apologize is “quick and intense,” the longer you wait to apologize, the longer you prolong a conflict.
- Apologizing can make clear that you’re concerned about others’ welfare, which is a basic, but fundamental, point that needs to be made over and over in any relationship.
- Apologies can help to de-escalate conflict.
All good points, so let me take them in order:
- When you’re advised to make it “quick and intense,” what it means is: Once you realize that an issue is about to bubble up and over, stop all your justifications for your actions—right or wrong—and say you’re sorry…and mean it. There are some battles not worth the fight…or if you’re determined to fight, you may win the battle of the day but lose the war of the century…and that never ends well.
The idea behind the concept of intense, I believe, is dealing more with the emotional feeling of pain that you have caused and can feel yourself vs. your chattering about how bad you feel about the issue. Coming from the heart, versus coming from the head, makes the all the difference.
We can all tell when someone feels like they have to apologize to get it over with, vs. their desire to make it right. For most thinking, breathing, feeling people, if your words are not sincere, they might still be accepted at the moment but they will not be remembered, and you can be assured this ugly issue will show up over and over again even though you’ve said you’re sorry. So remember, make your apology quick and intense.
- I really like his next point when he says that apologizing can make clear that you’re concerned about others’ welfare, which is a basic, but fundamental, point that needs to be made over and over in any relationship.
There is no greater act of love that will strengthen a relationship than when the other person knows, without a shadow of a doubt, that you care about them and are concerned for their basic needs…even if they are wrong on an issue. It’s just a fact of life that we all want to be loved, cared for or at least thought about. It’s a lonely world out there for many people (even those in relationships), so your kind words requesting forgiveness are very much like the Psalmist’s thought of providing cool water to a weary soul.
Just a note—one of the best ways to win back a friend is to be there even when the path is rocky and hard. Being there will help smooth over some of the other issues that the two of you are struggling with.
- The third point is perhaps the most obvious, yet the least adhered to, and that is when apologies can help to de-escalate a conflict. Wow! If you’re past the age of 10, you know this to be true. A simple I am sorry can stop the fire from burning down the whole house. You may still smell the smoke, but at least you saved the building.
Why would you not do this? What is so worthwhile or important that you’d set aside a long-standing relationship to win what? An argument? Really? Where did I miss the memo that said, being right is worth standing your ground to your dying day …or even if you (by some stretch of the imagination) are wrong, is it worth it to damage one of the last few relationships you haven’t already blown apart?
This idea of standing on the rooftop to scream to the world that you are right and you won’t apologize or back down doesn’t make anyone love you any more than they already do (if you’re lucky enough to have found somebody), but what it does is that it tells the world you’re inadequate in your ability to (as F. Scott Fitzgerald said) “…hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
I know some today will say that being right is the most important thing to them…and that, frankly, they’re sick and tired of having to give in to others when they are really wrong and yet refuse to admit it. I hear you. Fair enough! You might be right, in fact, even if you are…I just expect more out of you than that. We’re not in Jr. High anymore, and you have an opportunity to be bigger and more powerful than others expect when you, as they say, let sleeping dogs lie, and give or accept an apology and move on and de-escalate the conflict.
Life’s too short to live unhappy and alone or lonely.
The reality is, and I know I’ve said it a thousand times through the years that I’ve been on this radio station, you can ask or seek forgiveness and sometimes they will not give it to you. For some unknown reason, they like to hold on to the pain so they can continue hating you till the end of time. Well, if that’s the case, it’s their problem and not yours. Once you’ve done your part and honestly tried to make amends, you are now free to walk away and find new friends, a new life, new job, new hobby, new everything—no strings attached, with nothing holding you back, including the memories that you can now tuck away, choosing to see them as you want (hopefully, only the good times).
Let me remind you that you cannot fix anything if the other person likes to hold onto their brokenness as their excuse for not living life to the fullest with joy. Yes, I know everyone is hurt in some way—even if they don’t show it. Believe it or not, they, too, carry the scars of the divorce or death or loss or theft. They may not show it (and certainly not to you), but they know what they did and they know the type of person they are deep down. The good news is that this is not your problem, so walk away—forgive them—forgive yourself. Say you’re sorry and mean it.