Something happened this last week that, once again, reminded me of something so basic in life that I need to remind you of, for your own benefit. The context for this discussion is: what are you committed to regarding your relationships with the people in your life?
As to what happened, I’m not exactly sure, and it doesn’t really matter. Suffice it to say that I had a series of communications with a friend that went totally off the rails, led to a complete misunderstanding, and surely left both parties a bit frustrated, maybe even angry or hurt. For me, standing in the backlash of what happened, and realizing that I had the choice of being resentful or cleaning up the situation, I chose the latter and sent the other party an apology for my part in whatever it was that happened. She was happy to receive my apology, but didn’t offer any for their part in what happened. The best they could muster was an expression of sorrow that I was inconvenienced.
So why couldn’t she apologize? Because people generally think that an apology is an admission that you have done something wrong and, because people don’t want to admit that they are wrong about anything, they are reluctant to apologize. Even when people say they are willing to apologize, they usually don’t. Just like here, they say they are “sorry” and being sorry is not the same as apologizing.
So, let’s set the record straight. When correctly understood, an apology has nothing to do with right and wrong. It’s not an admission of guilt. In fact, it has very little if anything to do with the person apologizing. An apology is an act of compassion which is highly appropriate and effective whenever you do or say anything that has a negative impact on another, whether intended or not. Fundamentally, it’s a way of taking care of THE OTHER PERSON.
Here’s our definition of an apology: I acknowledge what I said, did or didn’t do; I acknowledge that whatever I said or did had an impact on you; I’m willing to take responsibility; and I request you forgive me.
The reality is that we all go through life stepping on other people’s toes, figuratively speaking. It’s almost impossible not to do that. The vast majority of the time, we had no intention to impact the other person in a negative way. I’m even willing to give my friend the benefit of the doubt and assume she meant no harm to me. But regardless of our good intentions, we still do damage. So, what are we to do? Ignore the damage because we didn’t intend it and surely don’t want to admit we were wrong?
I say no. We have been given a tool to repair the damage and it is a beautiful tool. Just apologize. Your apology lets the other person know that you understand that you said or did something that caused their upset, you are willing to accept responsibility for that and you request they forgive you. In almost every case, they are happy to do that and the situation is complete. And that is the best part of all, the situation is complete, which is a far better result than leaving the other person upset and blaming you and you walking away either feeling righteous or guilty.
So as I asked at the outset: what are you committed to regarding your relationships with the people in your life? Are you committed to your own feelings or there’s? Are you so committed to being right that you can’t be compassionate? In the final analysis, our relationships are the #1 source of our happiness so I encourage you to do whatever it takes to nurture them as best you can.