Through the years, I’ve said tons of sorries but never really thought about what an apology truly was in the first place. For the most part, my apologies have been simply communicating my sorrow at what happened because of me, whether it was intentional or accidental.
But apparently, it is so much more than merely letting the other person know how bad you’re feeling. And so, thinking it was high time I finally knew what it meant to sincerely apologize, I researched:
Apology. n. In interpersonal matters, an acceptance of responsibility for a wrong, plus a pledge to mend or change one’s ways. The wrong may be either intentional or accidental; an apology is fitting in either case.
It is usually made to the person or persons wronged, but may also be made to any third party to whom the wrongful act was evidence of untrustworthiness.
The purpose of an apology is to put the listener at ease regarding the trustworthiness of the apologizing party. An apology is not complete if it does not reflect (1) dismay over what happened, (2) understanding of the problem, (3) acceptance of the responsibility, and (4) willingness to do better.
Furthermore, I learned that it offered without defense. A key aspect of apology is the vulnerability involved. Apologies may be offered, forgiveness may be begged for, yet it may be refused or denied.
More than anything else, it is vulnerability that colours apology.
Indeed, many of us know well the moment in relationships when the other party has been offended by something and we must weigh whether we will attempt to repair it. We know that attempting to restore the relationship will take effort. It won’t be easy.
But apology is repair work. And while there are some injuries that cannot be healed just by saying you are sorry, there are others that can only be repaired by such. This is the power of apology — indeed, sometimes its necessity — it is what can mend something that cannot be fixed, but which also cannot be ignored.
I’ve patterned an apology-giving oath after the 1964 version of the Hippocratic Oath to help keep my apologies honest, complete, and authentic.
“By apologizing to you, I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:…
I will respect the person whose pain I have caused, and place myself in their shoes to know the pain my words, silence, action, or inaction wrought.
I will apply, for the benefit of the one I have wronged, all measures which are required, avoiding those traps of dismissiveness, frustration, lecturing, pride, blame-shifting, and other inauthentic means of apology.
I will remember that there is an art to communication as well as a purpose, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh irrefutable fact or reassuring fiction when in the midst of expressing vulnerability.
I will not be ashamed to say, “Please forgive me”, nor will I fail to listen to the person whose pain I have caused when they share with me how what I did or did not do made them feel.
I will respect the feelings of those I am apologizing to, for their actions or forgiveness cannot be dictated by the fact that I made an apology.
Most especially must I be able to accept if they want no longer anything to do with me. Above all, I must not insist I know better.
I will remember that I am not apologizing to a principle, a belief, or an idea — but a hurt human being whose pain or circumstance from my action or inaction may affect the person’s family, economic, or psychological stability.
My responsibility includes addressing the collateral damage felt by those around the person who I am apologizing to.
I will prevent pain and hardship whenever I can, for apologies ring less true with every repetition.
I remember that I remain a member of society, with obligations to all my fellow human beings, either to improve or at the very least do not destroy their lives with my action, or my inaction; my words, or my silence.
If I do not violate the sanctity of an apology, may I enjoy life and art, be respected while I live, and remembered with affection thereafter.
May I always act so as to preserve the finest and noblest intentions of communication, and may I long experience the joy and freedom of forgiving those who sincerely apologize to me.”