There are three examples I love from our kids’ childhood in regard to apologizing. Our two children would go through this little singsong process they instituted for when they had a conflict. I would say to them, “say your sorrys.” The one who did the offending would say, “sorry,” and the other one would reply, “It’s ok.” They would say this about three times in a row, “Sorry. It’s ok,” “Sorry. It’s ok, “Sorry. It’s ok.” Then, as if by magic, after the third repeat, they hugged and all was well. They usually ended up laughing and then going on with their play. In truth, I preferred the response of, “I forgive you” to “it’s ok,” but you take what you can get, and I loved seeing them do this.
My grandchildren say to each other, “I’m sorry,” and then, “I forgive you.” Or more phonetically correct to their toddler speech, “Sorwwy,” and “I forgib you.”
When we were at Disneyworld in February, Samuel couldn’t wait to see Donald Duck. After waiting in line, he bravely walked right up to him by himself. Sam was holding a little Mickey Mouse spinning twirly toy. The first thing Donald Duck did was to playfully take that toy from Sam’s little hand! Sam was horrified and devastated all at the same time, which resulted in him bursting into tears. My daughter, Rachel, ran to pick him up and console him. She explained Donald was just playing with him and was sorry. Donald Duck felt terrible! He tried to hug Sam to make amends. Sam sweetly but very reluctantly leaned in and told Donald with a tearful voice, “It’s ok. I forgib you.”
My sister in law, Leslie, taught our young children a very important distinction in the process of apologizing to each other. As is often the case when children are little and learning to interact socially, there is bound to be conflict. I would hear the kids say “sorry” to each other after being confronted by one of us pointing out their wrong behavior. Leslie, in all her wisdom, would say, “Let’s put an “I” in front of the sorry.” I’ve never forgotten that. It truly is profound! When you simply say “sorry,” it really says very little. When you say, “I’m sorry,” it shows who is taking responsibility for the sorry. This is actually the most important part of the “sorry,” the accepting responsibility. It shows you acknowledge the hurt you inflicted upon another, while also humbling yourself to admit the wrong, claiming responsibility for the hurt.
When my siblings and I were little we stayed with my grandma sometimes. When we argued she would say, “Now I’m not going to have that fussing here. You all love each other and shouldn’t treat each other that way.” She continued, “You’re acting too big for your britches.” Now, do I need to go cut a switch off that tree to help you get back down to the right size?” We quickly stood to attention and said, “No, we are back to the right size now. No switch needed! We are sorry.”
In my opinion, selflessness, accepting responsibility, humility and repenting of pride are the key ingredients to a good apology. So, since we have talked about what makes a good apology, let’s talk about what makes a bad apology. I like to call these “unapologies.” The first one that comes to mind is the sarcastic sounding, “sorry.” It is said with a long drawn out two-syllable question mark at the end of the word, while raising your eyebrows looking exasperated. That my friends, is an unapology. Another classic is the disclaimer. I recently read this in an article where a leader was “apologizing to a large group of people he had offended. He said, “If I’ve done anything that you misinterpreted, then I apologize.” That’s not an apology. It is an arrogant, condescending statement made by someone who seems forced to “apologize” for something he still believes is right to people he isn’t sorry to. There is no accepting responsibility, no humility, no repentance, therefore, no apology.
My last soapbox regarding this subject … when someone apologizes, if you don’t forgive him or her, don’t say you do. Be a big enough person to tell the truth either way. I hope you are challenged to join me in always giving a true apology.
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother…” (Matthew 18:15)
“My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; A broken and contrite heart You, God, will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17)
“For this is what the high and exalted One says— he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.” (Isaiah 57:15)
“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18)