This article is a précis of a seminar presented by Janine Hennig from Adelaide. Acknowledging that many people have felt great hurt by the harsh treatment they have received from individuals, groups, government legislation or even from their own community, she developed her seminar on the importance of proper apology.
She explored the importance of ex-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's saying "sorry" to the Aboriginal community, and the importance to them as shown in the following comments:
"Fundamental to our healing"
"Having empathy, compassion and understanding."
"Recognising the mistakes of the past, acknowledging them and moving on."
Some of the key elements in an apology are sincerity, honesty, validation that the hurt happened and was real, no conditions -"I'm sorry but..." Actions must be congruent with the words.
An apology is important because it gives closure, allows healing, opens dialogue, helps with reconciliation and allows us to move forward. "The only mistake that will destroy us is the one we are unwilling to admit."
Reasons we find it difficult to say sorry include embarrassment, pride, the belief that we are right (therefore no need to apologise), fear of appearing weak, not knowing what to say and the amount of time that may have elapsed since the incident.
Apologies are meant to make us feel humble and vulnerable. A sincere apology wins respect rather than losing it. Making things right can be more important than being right.
There are people who apologise excessively, sometimes from low self-esteem, sometimes to avoid conflict and sometimes because they are, in fact guilty of bad behaviour.
The Five Languages of Apology
Janine went on to explain some of the different ways apologies could be made, and how this might be perceived by the recipient. This is based on the book of the above title by Dr. Gary Chapman - an American Christian psychologist.
1. Expressing Regret
The apology should be specific and stand on its own. The person apologising needs to use an appropriate tone of voice and congruent body language. Setting conditions, e.g. "I'm sorry but that's what your behaviour did to me", making excuses or shifting the blame cancels out the apology.
2. Accepting Responsibility
Learning to say "I was wrong". Women may be better at this than men due to their general keenness to develop relationships. Men tend to think "Get over it."
An apology may not necessarily save us from the consequences of our actions, however. In Joshua 7:20, I Samuel 15:24 and Matt 27: 4, Achan, Saul and Judas admitted they were wrong but they were not forgiven. An apology may not be enough for God.
3. Making Restitution
Being prepared to make amends e.g. Zaccheus. Looking for a way to fix things.
4. Requesting Forgiveness
Recognising that a wrong has occurred and desire for the relationship to continue. This passes control to the person wronged.
5. Genuine Repentance
There are many Biblical verses about repentance.
Basically it’s about “doing a U-turn” .
Acts 3:19 "Repent and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out."
(a) Turn to God - change of heart.
(b) Change of deeds - call on Jesus to help us, in faith, through the holy spirit. Genuine repentance means regretting the pain we have caused and changing our behaviour.
God will help us - we don't have to do it alone.
People don't expect to see immediate change but they do expect to see effort.
What does it mean to forgive? To cover, take away penalty, pardon, be gracious to - the way God forgives us. Forgiveness is about reconciliation.
This doesn't necessarily mean that trust is restored. It opens the door but does not guarantee it. It doesn't remove painful emotions, memories or consequences.
Why do we fail to forgive?
The apology may not be genuine.
The person seeking forgiveness does not accept responsibility - "It's not my fault"
We think it means having to love the person.
We may not pray for God to help us forgive because we don't want to let it go.
We want to continue to receive sympathy as a victim.
We don't want to make restitution.
We can't forget. (Actually we don't have to forget in order to forgive.)
Do we need to forgive if there is no apology?
God requires repentance before he forgives - should we?
Matt 6:12-15 - The Lord's Prayer asks God to forgive us as we forgive our debtors.
Matt 5: 43-44 - Injunction to love one's enemies.
Jas 2: 13 - Mercy triumphs over judgement.
Can we publicly apologise for others? (As per Kevin Rudd's apology to the Stolen Generation).
If we ourselves are not victims of the offence do we question a public apology's worth?
In the Biblical example of Abigail and Nabal in I Samuel, Abigail apologised for the behaviour of her husband. She showed courage, humility, took responsibility and attempted to make reparation.
Are we prepared to do these things?
To validate another's feelings and help to rebuild the relationship?
Taken from NSW Christadelphian Support Network Newsletter No 39.