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Friday, July 1, 2016

How To Apologize

Thanks to Jess Lee Cuizon for this lovely photo.
A friend asked advice. I did my best, though I don't know if it was helpful. When we don't know the situation, it's hard to know what to suggest, and anyway, I have learned that advice is mostly useless, so I try to bring whatever perspective I have to help the person figure it out themselves. 

Anyway, somewhere in there, we talked about apologies, in case she has to make one.  (I'm not suggesting she needs to apologize, because, like I said, I don't know, but if she does, it's nice to have some tools.) 

Because apologies--those can be game-changers, either between you and the apologizee or within yourself. And here my personal rules for apology. 

1. Be specific. This is what I did and this is how I think it harmed you. 

2. Have already cleaned up your mess before you apologize--as much as is possible. In other words, if you stole, replace it. If you bad-mouthed, explain to others that you were mistaken and your comments were nasty. 

3. Do not explain, justify or blame. An apology that starts with "I'm sorry, but," is the continuation of an argument masquerading as apology. 

4. Let the person you wronged vent, and do not defend yourself. (I think of this as eating crow.) 
Remember, as you do so, that you are a fully-formed human being with great strengths and great weaknesses (sometimes contained within the same segment of your personality), that everyone makes mistakes, and that admitting to that does not make you a worthless human being, but rather one who can admit fault and grow. Also, it can help if you practice saying things like, "You're right, I can be self-righteous. Absolutely, I am sometimes very stiff-necked (nasty, selfish, etc.) It can also help to remember that sometimes it is a wonderful, healthy thing to be selfish.) 

5. If your error was committed publicly and involved embarrassing or attacking or humiliating another person, your apology must likewise be done publicly, preferable in front of the same people. It should be carried out in the same manner--to the point, thoughtful, and if possible calm and should explain what you have done to make amends. And it may require some more crow-eating. Let it go--even if you are a vegetarian. 

6. Jewish law states that you are required to do all this three times if the person refuses to forgive you. After that, it's not your problem but the person's problem. Once you have done those three apologies, you are cleaned up and free to go to God to ask forgiveness there as well. Without a real apology and amends, God, according to Jewish teachings, can't forgive you. 

7. If you don't believe in God, that's fine, because apologizing from the heart, cleaning things up, and asking forgiveness--even if the person does not grant it--changes something inside of you. This lovely rule of apology is one of the reasons why I do not believe in the idea that you must forgive in order to move on in life--if that person has not made amends, cleaned it up, and truly asked forgiveness, you are under no obligation to forgive them, and you can still move on, head held high. 

(Note: traditionally Jews don't bow or kneel to anybody but God, but the image feels right.) 

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