Published on January 11th, 2017 | by C.S. Johnson
4 Tips For Apologizing Well
Time is a tricky beast of a thing.
It’s always in motion, moving me forward through life, even as I drag my spiritual feet. And it’s always holding me back when my heart would rather leap forward with hope and enthusiasm.
To me, it is amazing how far I’ve come, and how fast and slow it’s taken me to be where I am.
There have been many hard times in my life — whether it was getting through school, or just waiting for school to begin. Waiting is hard for me. Growing is hard for me.
Learning is easy for me.
In theory, anyway. It’s part of the reason I thought I would be a good teacher; I was always a good learner.
But there is a significant difference between knowing something and doing something. That’s the difference between knowledge and wisdom, the difference between the wise man who built his house upon the rock and the foolish man who built his house on the sand.
Did the foolish man in question know he should build his house upon the rock? We aren’t told, but I can well imagine he did. I’ve found the difference between knowing and doing the right thing doesn’t usually come down to whether I know it or not; it comes down to whether or not I did it.
I know, for example, how to eat well. But it didn’t stop me from buying the two candy bars on the way out of the store today.
Over the years, I’ve found that learning to apologize is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. In my work, in my marriage, in my friendships, and in my family, my pride has cost me quite a bit over and over. I’m constantly relearning how to humble myself.
The last year or so has no doubt been a testament to how well people can differentiate between arguing ideas and arguing against people. Despite our best intentions, I know how easily what we see as the best of our core values can be called into question, and how it can hurt us. It can hurt our relationship with our friends and others.
It can also hurt our relationship with God.
As a teacher, I’ve taught people how to argue. I don’t spend as much time on teaching people how to lose graciously.
So here are my tips for learning how to apologize:
1. Recognize the importance of your relationship.
I have friends who disagree with me on fundamental values, as well as friends who have the same values as me but advocate for different ways of expressing them. My family is similar; we have tight relationships, but we also have distinct personalities.
I’ve found that asking myself, “Is this person agreeing with me foundational to the survival of our relationship?” helps. More often than not, this helps me realize, “Okay. I need to change how I’m handling this situation, even if I’mm not going to change my mind.”
I also see this as a bridge toward confession of my sins.
2. Analyze the situation for specific wrongdoing on your part.
It does us no good to place the blame on all sides or just the other side. Was it my tone or manner which seemed inappropriate? I can name any number of arguments where I’ve said the right things in the wrong way.
Was it possible there was a misunderstanding? If so, can I articulate it in a way that clarifies intent and meaning?
3. Actually say the words.
“I’m sorry,” still makes me choke at times. Even if there is no legitimate wrongdoing on your part, it helps to say, “I’m sorry this got out of hand,” or “I’m sorry that this has been a tough subject to talk about.”
I also recommend following up with, “Can you forgive me?” or “Can we still be friends and move through this?”
It’s important to let the other person know you still want a future relationship, even if, in some cases, you might place more limits on that relationship. I’ve found that actually saying it, actually doing it, makes it easier to do it again. And the more you do it, the better you get at it.
4. Recognize that some apologies are ongoing.
I have had several students, friends, and acquaintances I’ve disagreed with on topics, sometimes fiercely, and we end up doing this over and over again.
But many of us — including myself! — are still growing. A classic example is politics. It’s easy to see politics as a left-right, right-wrong choice. But that won’t stay that way, especially as you grow older.
Things that look easy aren’t always truly easy. They don’t always come down to simple things. As you grow, you might change your mind. I’ve had people come around to my thinking, but I’ve also come around to others’ way of thinking.
Being the winner in an argument is not what an argument should be about.
Apologizing is hard. It means opening up the very vulnerable center of ourselves and often placing others’ dignity before our pride.
But it is a mark of maturity to prioritize your relationship and to understand the underlying values and perspectives of different people. We all live in this world, and we all see it from a certain point of view. That’s part of the reason seeing things through God’s eyes helps bind Christians together, even through difficult situations where there are no easy answers.
People talk a lot about tolerance, but tolerance is too easy. Respect is better because it forces us to understand each other and recognize the limitations on our own pride and influence.
We all want people to take the time to get to know us, and we want to be able to enjoy the time we spend with others.
So take the time to learn about people, and learn how to apologize. God gives us people of all sorts in our lives, and it’s often to change us and make us grow into better people.
Don’t let a bad argument rob you of all the good a person can do for you.
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