Tuesday, April 29, 2014

4/30/14—Apologizing Graciously

For one reason or another, I guess I'm just not the kind of person people apologize to. 

Either that, or people just aren't very good at apologizing. It's probably the latter. And I'll admit there's plenty I've never apologized for myself, especially when I have no intention of ever seeing the person or speaking to them again. But the lack of apology still weighs on me, whether I'm the one who's failed to apologize or they are.

I confess there's a lot I've let slide in the past based on a muttered, half-assed apology from the offender. I've had fantasies of saying to offenders, "what exactly are you apologizing to me for?" in hopes of getting them to speak their crimes out loud. But in reality, I take the muttered generic/blanket apology and move forward because I know hard it can be to apologize. 

When people HAVE adequately apologized to me, though, I've immediately melted. In fact, one apology stands out and it's why I'm writing today. It stands out, in part, because like I said, it's so rare to receive a genuine apology. But it also stands out because it was voiced in such a way that it was clear my friendship to this person was more important to them than their need to be right.

What they did doesn't much matter. They thought they were doing something nice for me, but instead it was something that left me feeling uncomfortable, embarrassed and misunderstood. I was a little angry and frustrated when I asked them not to do it again, but I acknowledged that I understood they were trying to help me out. I don't even know that I expected them to apologize. All I wanted was for them to understand my side and promise not to do it again. But instead of justifying or explaining their actions, they said "I'm so sorry. You're totally right about that. I was wrong. Please forgive me."

Frankly, it stunned and disarmed me. It also made me feel bad because I knew their intentions were good. But more than anything, the fact that they didn't try to argue or justify their point, combined with the humility it takes to accept full responsibility for something, made me feel very important to this person. And it taught me a valuable lesson about the things that are more important than being right. Things like friendship, integrity, self respect and, quite honestly, the inner peace of knowing you've done the mature thing. I believe it was right to confront them and define my boundaries, but I felt bad afterward because, in the absence of their need to be right, I saw my own need to hold on to my "right" position.

The image/saying I posted today is known as the "Ho'oponopono Prayer". Hawaiians and those of the South Pacific believe that error and wrongness causes illness. So reconciliation and forgiveness are common rituals performed as part of daily life. Beyond that, they feel that taking responsibility for everything in your life is important, even if it's that someone misunderstood your intentions. Even if it involves war and starvation and other matters not directly impacting you that are "out of your control". If you feel bad about it, it's yours to heal. And healing happens through the prayer...I love you. I'm sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you.

Think about some injustice in the world. Visualize it while saying those words. It will help you feel better. It will help release the burden you feel about your helplessness. Then think of something you've done to yourself and say the same words. It might move you as it moved me. Then think of how healing it would be for you to use those words with someone you know you've wronged.

I think we probably all underestimate the burden we carry at the hands of our own bad behavior, whether that bad behavior happens one to one or as part of your participation in a society or group that has hurt others, whether you've played a direct role or not. You don't even have to be in the same room with the person to recite the prayer to them. They might not even be alive. The energy will nonetheless benefit you and flow to them.

Last week we spoke of forgiveness and how it's more for you than the other person. While I think the best practice is to apologize directly to the other person, especially when it matters to you, the same could be said about asking for forgiveness. Acknowledging to the universe that you've done wrong and hope to be forgiven by someone you no longer maintain contact with can be just as powerful for you as if the apology had been timely and face-to-face. We've probably all given apologies that were less than graciously received or even, in some cases, made the other person angrier. Through a practice like this, you can learn to forgive yourself, regardless of whether the other person forgives or not. 

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