Skip to main content

The Magic of Apology by Rev Dr. Linda Anderson

          In this time of New Year I'm looking back on 2019 and forward to 2020. There is much to celebrate. Much to feel grateful for. And there is much to lament and feel sorrow over. We human beings are a mixed bag. What causes me particular pain these days is what I call our growing estrangement from one another as people. The more we break into "tribes" and draw lines in the sand, the less able we are to see one another as human beings like ourselves. One way that this estrangement shows up is that we as a society and as individuals increasingly justify our own regrettable actions by blaming other people. The sense of mutuality in relationship that connects us is eroding as we take less and less responsibility for our part in any interactions. One way I can see to counteract that tendency is through a practice of apology. Apology: a regretful acknowledgment of error, offense or failure.
          Apologies well done are magic. Apologies poorly done usually cause more harm than good.  A well done apology arises from a combination of regret and compassion.   We become aware of the negative consequences of our thoughts, words and/or actions. We might want to let ourselves off the hook by proclaiming that we didn’t mean it; our intention was not a negative one. Intentions, though, are but one side of human interaction. Regardless of our intentions, what we say and do has an impact on others. The impact may be beyond our control but it is not beyond our responsibility to address. This is where compassion comes in. By compassion I mean an understanding that whatever the other person is experiencing  is real for them. Our feelings are real. They may not always be accurate indicators of reality, but they are real for the one experiencing them. They are not to be dismissed, but rather responded to with compassion. Our actions and words can have unintended consequences and if painful to the receiver, we might very well feel regret for the suffering we have caused.  We might not even have done anything we would call “bad” or “wrong”. All the same, the consequences were painful. We can regret that and express our regret in an apology that says I’m sorry I caused you pain.
 Further, a well done apology does not explain, excuse or justify. It simply takes responsibility for what one said or did, even when you’re not the only one in the wrong. I did this and I’m sorry. Such a taking of responsibility, while humbling, is also freeing and strengthening. At the same time saying I’m sorry is not the same as asking for forgiveness and we would do well not to expect forgiveness just because we apologize. Whether or not someone forgives us is up to them and their own internal processing.  Nevertheless, saying I’m sorry can be an act of self-forgiveness. Some of us might have a tendency to judge ourselves by our worst deeds. We think we are unworthy if we have done something unworthy. Taking responsibility for those deeds and saying so out loud is an act of courage that helps to counteract our shame and restore our honor. It teaches us that we are not our worst selves. There is good in us and that good makes it possible for us to admit wrongdoing. Finally, a meaningful apology contains the resolve to change, whether or not spoken out loud. 
         An apology well done is magic. It’s magic because it can change the energy around the story. Apologies unstick us; they release us. Apologies can help us to heal from the wounds inflicted. They are a recognition of the injustice done to us and the validity of our reaction. They restore our dignity. They help to reconnect us to the one who offended us because the acknowledgment of the offense starts to rebuild trust. They comfort us because apologies show that the other person cares about and honors our feelings. They rebalance the power dynamic between us. They put our communication on a more positive track. Finally, apologies might come with reparations or amends of some sort. 
 So if an apology can have such an effect, why is it so hard for so many of us to apologize? That's a good question.


Popular posts from this blog


My mind has been thinking about time and how it seems to be different now with all of what is happening. First there is COVID-19 and our stay-in-place semi-lockdown.  For those who have full-time jobs, and even for those who don't, we schedule things around moments in time.  Our lives are routine-based:  when we get up, when we eat, when we work, when we have time for family, when we have time to ourselves, when we sleep, etc.  When our routines are disrupted, many of us feel out of sorts or even lost.  What happened?  Why is this happening?  When is it (routine) coming back?  I've heard that there are many Americans who find it difficult to take a vacation, a real vacation of a week or two, because it takes them away from their work for too long.  As we are gradually allowed to come back to our former lives before COVID-19, perhaps we will have a better sense of time, our old time.  But then again, maybe time will never be the same.      George Floyd was killed senselessly an

Make even these days count

One of the most popular features on a local newscast of a small TV station is something rather surprising. It is a feature called- “The Day of the Week”.  Today is…….. Monday!  The station put forth this as a kind of joke at first, but it was so popular that it became a regular daily addition to the morning newscast.  Apparently, so many of us have lost track of what day it is that we need a reminder. During this stay-at-home time, every day seems to blend into the next.  It is truly difficult to remember how many days we have all been quarantined at home, what the date is and what day of the week it is.  Many of us have a few markers that help- jobs that pause for the weekend, celebrations of Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays- special days of worship.  But even with these, the days seem to bleed into each other like a striped shirt washed in hot water. The period that we are in right now in the Jewish calendar is ironically, a time of counting. A time when we purposely try to keep
Compassion On the radio a few days ago there was a piece about refugees arriving by boat to the shores of a country that in the past had been welcoming, but this time people were yelling angrily and running into the water to block the boats from landing.   The boats were full and there were children on board. The turmoil and anger in the crowd was audible. I don’t speak their language, but the reporter said that people blocking the boats were shouting “Go back home. We don’t care about the babies.” I was repulsed. I could not stop thinking about it. “We don’t care about the babies.” What would it take for me to say that? For my friends to say that? My neighbors? Horrible thought, that people I know might be moved to yell at desperate people “We don’t care about the babies.” I started to ask myself how that could happen, what it would feel like to push away needy people and shout “I don’t care about the babies.” Please don’t stop reading when I tell you that suddenly my hea