"Apology is an important yet neglected aspect of forgiveness," psychotherapist and author Beverly Engel writes in the introduction of her groundbreaking book, The Power of Apology.
Most of the current psycho-spiritual empowerment literature treats forgiveness as a prerequisite to healing and a gesture that wronged parties extend to offenders by their own volition. We must forgive for no other than ourselves, we are told. Under this notion, a 'victim' is faced with the double burden of responsibility to forgive as well as to recover from a bad experience, thereby completely waiving a wrongdoer from moral responsibility.
This forgiveness-centric view of healing forgoes one of the first things that were taught to us in the playground, which is to say sorry when we hurt a playmate. Apologizing shows that even as kids, we are aware of our actions and sensitive to the feelings of others. Doing so helps us earn another person's forgiveness.
Growing up, our world views become ambiguous. We are bound by laws, norms, and certain codes of conduct that blur our beliefs of what is right or wrong, and what is acceptable or not. Sometimes our beliefs are in conflict with others' even if they are close to us like our parents, siblings, friends and partners. In a culture where misogyny, violence and vindictiveness prevail, what appears to be a clear offense by the book may become a subject of debate, if not completely acceptable to the louder "majority." Under all circumstances, we hold on to our convictions and refuse to exercise our foremost duty towards others, which is to extend compassion. We lose the value of apology in the process.
Shifting the burden of healing and reconciliation on the shoulders of those who have been wronged leaves much to be desired. If forgiveness is the ultimate cure-all, how come our society is still beset with vindictiveness? How come many of us are still trapped in the past? How come even the most spiritual persons are struggling with forgiveness?
Forgiveness is more than a gesture; it is a state of being. It takes another gesture for one to arrive at the state of forgiveness. Apology: a powerful deed that conveys one's realization and acknowledgement of the pain that has been caused to another being. "In acknowledging your shame, you give the person who has been wronged the power to forgive. The exchange is at the heart of the healing process," Beverly Engel explains. Reconciliation is only possible when apology has been given and subsequently, forgiveness.
Any relationship that aspires to be rebuilt, including those that are political by nature, has to go through the process. Without an apology, we do not only exempt offenders from the legal or moral consequences of their choices which are instrumental to their spiritual growth; we invalidate the sufferings borne by those they aggrieved. Likewise, the absence of an apology frees the wrongdoer from making a commitment to change. It is impossible to foster trust when the risk of committing the same mistakes is high. Trust, after all, is the foundation of all human relationships.
Moving Forward With a Meaningful Apology
So how do we move forward in our relationships and as a people wanting of healing and unity?
The first step is for the offending party to render a meaningful apology. Psychology Today cites Beverly Engel's definition of a meaningful apology as one that conveys REGRET, RESPONSIBILITY, and REMEDY. (Click here to read more.) Apologies lacking in any of those 3Rs are often ineffective as many may attest. Those who lack regret cannot identify their wrongdoings and thus, face the risk of making the same mistakes again. Those who do not know how to take responsibility would somehow find an opportunity to blame the other person for triggering the offense. Lastly, those who do not offer remedy lack sincerity in their desire to correct the past and rebuild the relationship.
Grace Opens the Path
Anecdotally, many persons whose relationships are in dire need of repair long to hear the words "I am sorry." However, there are instances when the other person's non-verbals may speak louder than those three words, especially when they communicate the 3Rs. Those apologizing may have to rely on grace for the other party to grant forgiveness as reaching this state is an internal process that takes time. Both apology and forgiveness should not be rushed.
When Neither Apology Nor Forgiveness is Forthcoming
While this post underscores the power of apology, it does not suggest that offended parties should hang in a limbo for the rest of their lives. It is true that we have to forgive for our own sake and where it applies, let institutions bind wrongdoers to the consequences of their actions. Still, when the latter is denied, there is always that Invisible Hand that will give what is due for our actions.
The Power of Apology is available in print and Kindle version on Amazon. Click the product links below to purchase the book.
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