Apologies, Forgiving and Forgiveness

For some reason, I just ran across a September, 2004, article by Martha Beck titled “Always Apologize, Always Explain,” in Oprah Magazine.

It’s still a good read.  Part of what makes it powerful is a list of what is contained in a good apology (itself from Aaron Lazare, the man who—literally—wrote the book on Apology)

1. Full acknowledgement of the offense
2. An explanation
3. Genuine expresssion of remorse
4. Reparations for damage

It’s a fine list (and has prompted me to finally buy Lazare’s book). 

But what I want to focus on is Beck’s own additional thought:

The final gallant act of apology is to release your former victim from any expectation of forgiveness. No matter how noble you have been, he will forgive—or refuse to forgive—on his own terms. That is his right.

Quite right.

It’s instructive that the ninth step of the Twelve Step program literature (you know, the one that pops up in Seinfeld and other sitcoms—the one about making amends), also doesn’t allude to forgiveness. In fact, none of the 12 steps do.

I think this is because Beck, and the 12-Step program, recognize that life is a messy business. To forgive, one has to have a very clean heart in the first place.  And we—I’ll be clean here and just say I—rarely do.

If I’m in a rush to forgive people, I most likely am still judging them for some harm they did to me.  If I’m consternated about being forgiven, well, that’s all about me; and apologies don’t come from a good place if they’re all about me.

Apologies should not be tainted by forgiving, or by seeking forgiveness.  Those have their place, but it’s elsewhere. 

A good apology tries to set aright something that you set awry by impinging on another’s will.  It’s only appropriate that the apology itself refrain from further imposition of will. Hence the separation from forgiving or forgiveness.

Apologizing is fundamentally about taking full responsibility for your own role—no more, no less—in what goes on.  Fully owning your words, your actions, your life helps everything fall into place.  Blame is gone.  Wishing is gone.  Whining and tweaking and sliming and spinning are all gone when you take responsibility for your own role—no more, no less—in what goes on.  As Phil McGee says, blame is captivity, and responsibility is freedom.

In that vein, I want to apologize to (he knows who he is) for what happened back in (he knows when it was).  It was my doing—he knows that, and I want to say to him he was right.   And I’m sorry.