The art of apology | Sunday Observer

The art of apology

7 March, 2021

An apology is an act of saying sorry. When we have to apologise we need to do it sincerely. However, it takes a great deal of strength of character to apologise quickly out of your heart rather than out of pity. It is always good to have a deep sense of security in fundamental principles and values to genuinely apologise. You may have already noted that those who have no internal security cannot apologise sincerely. They fear that others will take advantage of their weakness. In addition, they usually feel justified in what they did.

According to Eastern wisdom and culture, if you are going to bow, you have to bow low. Christian ethics says, “Pay the uttermost farthing.” An apology should not only be sincere but also be perceived as sincere. Leo Roskin said, “It is the weak who are cruel. Gentleness can only be expected from the strong.”

All humans are liable to make mistakes, but only a few people are willing to admit them. Sensible people will forgive mistakes because mistakes are usually of the mind, mistakes of judgment. However, they will not easily forgive the mistakes of the heart, the ill intentions, the bad motives, and the prideful justifying cover-up of the first mistake.

Strict disciplinarian

If you are a quick-tempered person, you will get plenty of opportunities to make apologies. In one of my earliest memories I can still remember my boss telling me, “Don’t look at the ground when you say ‘I’m sorry.’ Hold your head up and look the person in the eye, so that he’ll know you mean it.” Before my transfer to his office I was warned, “You’re going to work under a strict disciplinarian.” No doubt he was a martinet. He maintained discipline in the office and we began to respect him.

He thus conveyed the first principle of a successful apology. It must be direct. You must never pretend to be doing something else in the name of apology. Some people apologise while leafing through a sheaf of correspondence or talking to a client. Sometimes, you will be obliged to apologise to a subordinate after blaming him for a mistake that turned out to be your fault. It is useless apologising to a hostess whose guest of honour you had insulted, by sending flowers the next day without mentioning your bad behaviour.

One of the most important factors of an effective apology is your readiness to accept responsibility for your blunder or rudeness. Do not make excuses while making an apology because it will dilute the whole purpose. When you give excuses, the other person may not forgive your action. If you wish to be magnanimous, make no excuses while offering an apology. After an apology both parties should feel better about themselves.

Embarrassing incident

It may be that you are partly responsible for some embarrassing incident. When you take the responsibility for your action, it will encourage others to come forward and assume their share of the blame. Sometimes you will be blamed for an action committed by a group of people. When you come forward and apologise, others too will get the courage to do the same.

During the visit to a friend’s house, I accidentally knocked against a beautiful vase of flowers. The vase shattered on the floor and my friend said she bought it as a souvenir when she visited a foreign country. In such a situation sincere remorse is not enough as there is material damage. I didn’t want to say, “May I pay for it?” It would serve no purpose. Although she asked me to forget the whole incident, I managed to get a similar vase through another friend of mine. When I presented it after a few days, her face beamed with happiness. In such delicate situations words alone will not suffice to make amends.

In most situations, the damaged item cannot be repaired or replaced. At a dinner party a friend of mine got drunk and damaged the glass door of a cabinet. When he recovered from his drunken stupor, he offered his apologies. After returning home he sent a note to the hostess saying, “I know there is no excuse for my behaviour last night. Although it is my fault, I had no intention to damage your glass cabinet. I am sending a workman to replace the glass and your cabinet will look nice again. In addition, I’m sending a bottle of your favourite perfume as a token of friendship.” She was pleased and they renewed their friendship.

Timely apologies

It is unfortunate that we do not make timely apologies in our most intimate relationships. Sometimes, you shout at your spouse for no fault on her part. But you never take the trouble to apologise. We do not seem to think that we owe our loved ones the same courtesy we would routinely accord our friends.

I know of a husband who used to make derogatory remarks about his wife in public. On every such occasion he used to send flowers, usually roses. One day she decided to leave him for good. Before doing so, she left a garland of thorns on his pillow. By doing so she reminded him that he never wanted to change his ways. The heart of any apology lies in the intention not to repeat the mistake or bad behaviour.

Human life is full of unpredictable situations. Sometimes, you may have to apologise even if you are not at fault. They are called peace-keeping apologies. When you have an argument with your boss, you tend to use some harsh words. You are 100 per cent correct in your argument. However, if you do not apologise, what will happen to your job? Therefore on such occasions you have to apologise to make peace with people.

Valid reasons

In marriage and other relationships constant arguments will occur from time to time. When an over-worked husband returns home, his wife will question him as to why he got late.

Even when he gives valid reasons, she will not believe them. Therefore, it is advisable for the husband to apologise for his delay in coming home. This will help maintain peace at home. If you are adamant that you are not at fault, you will have endless trouble in your marriage.

Accepting apologies is as important as delivering them. A mother I know always gives her children extra hugs and kisses when they apologise. She wants to bring them up in the correct way, so that they will be ready to apologise for their faults.

It is a tragedy that most people find it difficult to apologise. They are either too proud to do so or are not aware of the benefits of an apology. Very often people say, “Why should I apologise when I am not at fault?” By offering an apology you do not stand to lose anything.

A sincere apology is a small symbolic gesture that will cement the bond of forgiveness. If you were hurt by someone’s remark, do not shout at them. By doing so, you will be making another potential enemy. In our short stay on this beautiful planet we need to spread compassion and make friends wherever we happen to be.

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