Sunday, July 19, 2009

Learning to Apologize

There are many times I feel that how to say 'I'm sorry' is a lost art. Sure, people may apologize, but how often do we see a true apology? A true apology is where the person accepts full responsibility for their actions, and genuinely projects either regret or a realization of poor actions and/or decisions.

For example, how many people caught the Alex Rodriguez steroid confession. Sure, he was able to fess up to taking steroids for a certain period of time, but how many excuses did he throw out there? With his dodging one hundred percent accountability, how many people have renewed respect for him? Not that he had much respect to begin with, but probably not many.

Now take Andy Pettite, a pitcher for the Yankees, who also confessed to steroid usage for a very brief period of time. He stood in front of everyone, took full responsibility for his actions, and gave a very real apology to everyone. He handled it with class, style, and his reputation was not tarnished.

It is my hope to see a change from perceived personal preservation in the form of not taking full responsibility, to a truthful, honest, sincere confession of wrongdoing, and a genuine apology to go with it.

Square One, Family

I am going to scale this down and make this a focus in the family environment. I think there is a common misconception that apologizing equals confession, which equals punishment. This carries on from parent to child, and spouse to spouse.

I believe there is a general fear, especially amongst kids, that apologizing for something done will ultimately have a negative consequence. This fear is what prompts us to justify our actions. The minute we start giving excuses in self defense, the apology is ruined.

From personal experience, I know that when I have said I was sorry, followed by a quick defense and explanation of my actions, I truly felt that these were legit excuses that would ultimately make my apology more understandable. The problem with this, is the person who I was apologizing to probably immediately dismissed my gesture as soon as I started justifying my actions.

Since I have become aware of my 'false' apologies, I can catch myself in the act, and try to stop myself from digging a deeper hole. Sure, I still do it, because the self preservation built into me is trying to find a loop hole that will help me elude putting fault squarely on my shoulders. I can sit back right now and think that is despicable, but it is funny how the mind starts thinking differently as soon as it is in a state of keeping anticipated confrontation away.

Spouse to Spouse

My solution for spouse to spouse apologies is probably the toughest, because often we find it easier to confront our significant others on seemingly small issues. Also, it becomes tougher because you are composing a mental battle with someone equal to your own intelligence, maturity (let's hope), and life experience.

With kids, more often than not, we as parents are the ones that stand in the light of 'being right'. In a marriage, or in any relationship, each partner is more or less on equal footing.

Keeping that in mind, my wife and I have really focused on listening, and apologizing sincerely. Usually, each of our apologies is returned in kind, in some way or form.

Whenever we get in an argument, both of us try to remain calm, and listen to the other as they explain their side of the situation. This is probably the hardest part, because we both like to vehemently defend our points of view. After our discussions, which can be lengthy at times, one of us will make the first move and offer a genuine apology. Then the other will usually apologize as well, because after all, it takes two to have an argument.

When this happens, both of us usually feel much better, and we truly feel like we have reached a complete resolution. Apologizing sincerely strengthens our marriage.

And that brings me to my overall message for spouses, or any adult to adult apology really. It takes alot to swallow your pride and apologize, but doing so can heal wounds, and give you the ability to project accountability, responsibility, and maturity.

Our Children

When it comes to kids saying they are sorry, I believe their view is that an apology is basically and admission of guilt. Because usually, there may be a consequence involved in some way or form if they did something wrong. I think that misconception is something that we, as parents, can fix.

I realize there are a million different scenarios regarding our children, and each one may require a different action, or response. But I also think there can be a general focus on the good coming from admitting the truth and apologizing, as opposed to a focus on the repercussions of the negative deed.

Simply put, when a child apologizes, we should make sure to receive the apology warmly, so they are not afraid to do so again in the future. Any discipline that may come afterwards should be conducted in a manner does not take away from the positive reinforcement of apologizing.

It is important to also instill in our kids that apologizing is important not just in family life, but in all aspects of life, so that it becomes a part of them as they grow up, and helps become a tool for success.

Practice Makes Perfect

Learning to apologize is not something that cannot be done overnight. Rather, it is an evolving skill that needs to be mastered. I myself am still working hard on this, and there are many times I think I may have to come back to this very blog post to remember what my focus needs to be.

But what I can tell you is that in my life at home, life with my family, and life at work has been for the better. My effort to give people my sincerest apologies has left me feeling like issues are completely resolved, and I can move forward in any aspect, allowing myself to grow as a person, a dad, and a husband.

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