Friday, December 5, 2014

Apology: The flip side of forgiveness

Forgiveness is not a crowbar, a battering ram or a bargaining chip.  If you’ve screwed up, forgiveness is not a right or a demand. 

Let me give you a helpful piece of advice.  If you care about a relationship, the MOMENT you realize you blew it, RUN, don't walk - race as fast as you can to the relationship repair department and start taking steps to fix it. 

I always talk about maintaining good self esteem in relationship, so I don’t want you to lie prostrate on the floor while moaning "mea culpa, mea culpa."  Let’s have some dignity here.  You’re a good person.  You made a mistake.  If you could have figured out how to do the right thing in the moment you would have.  Lots of factors come into play there, including being more or less interested in doing the right thing in the moment. 

One of the most disabling disservices we do our children in this society is to not teach them how to screw up and recover.  We teach them to screw up and hide it, to screw up and give 100 reasons why it wasn’t REALLY their fault, to screw up and accept being berated and shamed in a manner out of proportion to the seriousness of the screw up, but we don’t teach kids how to deal with the unavoidable situation in which either knowingly or unknowingly we have hurt another person. 

The funny thing is, we have an easier time apologizing to strangers.  I did it this morning on my way to my plane (yep.  That’s why I’m writing.  I am stuck in a plane!)  I heard a chuckle behind me, and the guy said “I’m trying to pass you and you’re just all over the place!”  First words out of my mouth?  “I'm sorry!”  It’s habit.  And it’s not a lie.  I was totally in my own little world, daydreaming about my upcoming VACATION and not paying attention to anyone else on the planet.  I didn’t do it on purpose, but I impeded someone else’s progress with my (albeit unknowing) self-centered lack of awareness of my relationship to other travelers.  Apology was easy, as was having a short conversation with this total stranger who was apparently rushing back to Ohio.  We had a nice relationship.  It was short, but pleasant.  We even worked through conflict in a positive way.  A lot happened in that 5 minutes.  Our relationship ended abruptly, but I’m OK. 

We grow up being made to apologize for things we aren't sorry for, that really weren't WRONG in the first place.  I VIVIDLY remember being forced to go to the door of my next door neighbor (I was probably 6 or 7 at the time) and apologize for picking peaches up off the ground, and subsequently from the tree that was technically the neighbor's but halfway in our yard, and from which the neighbors NEVER picked peaches.  In fact I remember hearing MANY complaints about the peaches rotting on the ground.  Yet myself and my two neighbor-friends were trotted to the front door and made to spit out an apology.  It made no sense to me.

I heard a story once of a kid who was being picked at by his older brother and when he had finally had enough, picked up a pencil and stabbed the offending kid in the hand (No one died of lead poisoning . . . not even sure there was a band-aid required).  The mother, horrified, asked "DOES IT MAKE YOUR HEART FEEL GOOD TO HURT YOUR BROTHER???"  And at that moment, the youngster replied absolutely honestly "YES."  Gotta love that kid.

I don't make my kids apologize.  I thought long and hard about this one.  I don't make them say "I'm sorry," especially when I know darn good and well they aren't.  I think that teaches kids to be disingenuous and frankly, to lie.  Instead, I force my children to say "It was wrong for me to (whatever they did)."  I used to make them add "and I won't do it again."  But I stopped because everyone in the room knew they would.  I also make my kids write lines and/or paragraphs about their offenses, but that's another blog.
"I'm sorry" should mean "I am experiencing sorrow that I didn't pull my self-centered head out of my clueless ass quickly enough to avoid damaging our relationship."  Instead what it usually means is "don't hold me accountable," or "I'm sorry you aren't tough enough to take it."  I generally don't say "I'm sorry."  But I will speak volumes about recognizing that a relationship is damaged and expressing my desire to repair that damage. 

We all trip and fall and act like jerks once in a while.  Know who I apologize to and own up to my behavior with most?  My kids.  First of all because I screw up with them most frequently.  They get the dregs of me and have to deal with it when my head falls off and I fall back into old patterns of drill-sergeant parenting.  But secondly, and I think most important, because I want them to know how to make mistakes and still feel good about themselves while having an expectation that the other person will recognize a g

enuine effort and accept the apology. 

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