Friday, June 29, 2012

Owning up

I was talking to a dear friend this evening who, nearly six months ago, was badly hurt by someone he trusted lying to him, concealing the truth from him about something.  The person never apologized when it happened, and for the last five months has been justifying his behavior, saying he didn't do anything wrong.  

Suddenly, a few days ago, he decided to apologize.  But his apology was way more about explaining why he did what he did, than in taking any responsibility for hurting my friend.  He said, in essence, the same old thing: that he didn't feel like he'd done anything wrong - and he implied that my friend was too sensitive and over-reacting.  

That's not an apology.  That's just more of the same self-justification that has been going on for months.  

An apology goes like this:  "What I did hurt you.  I am sorry.  I was wrong."  


Source of this photo
Whether the hurt was intentional or not is immaterial.  The phrase, "I didn't mean to hurt you" is the wrong thing to say when apologizing; it just is, no matter what a person is used to.  

Think of it this way - an example "off the top of my head."  Imagine (for the sake of the exercise) that I ask you to put your hand on a table, with your fingers spread.  You do so.  Then I start taking the butt end of a cutlery knife and hitting the table with it, aiming for the space between your fingers, first between the first and second, then the second and third, and so forth, and then back again. Faster and faster, back and forth.  In doing that, I miss and I hit the top of your finger with the heavy steel butt of the knife.  It hurts.  You draw your hand back and say ouch.  

Now - when I immediately say that I didn't mean to hurt you, does that make you feel better?

No.  You've still been hurt. And I'm the one who did it! Whether I meant to do it or not is not important. The fact that I did it IS.  The appropriate thing for me to say is "Oh - I'm terribly sorry! I shouldn't have even tried that!"  No justification, no excuse, no rationalization.  Just "I was wrong.  I'm sorry!" 

Now let's say I don't apologize and wait until two weeks later to do it, and then when I do, I tell you why I was doing such a dangerous stunt in the first place instead of just telling you that I'm sorry that I hurt you. Does that apology hold water? 

No way!!

Taking responsibility takes guts.  It really requires courage to own up and not try to protect ourselves when admitting that we wronged someone.  Justifying ourselves gives the message that the other person's pain doesn't matter, that we're more concerned about ourselves than we are about the other person. Besides, you can't do very much good if you're covering your butt all the time.  

Did my friend take the "apology" he received seriously?  
Of course not.  He's not stupid.

Someday I hope that this person "gets it" and is truly repentant for the hurt he caused - and that he owns up and says that he's sorry.  But by then, I just wonder if it might be too little, too late. 

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