I’ve written before about fake apologies that don’t cut it, such as “I’m sorry if anyone was offended…” when the perpetrator knows very well she did or said something offensive.
But there’s a flip side. Is it possible to apologize without saying, “I’m sorry?” I think it is. In fact, sometimes the most sincere apology comes without words but by making amends.
Say a neighbor backs into your car. She knocks on the door and says, “I just hit your car. I wasn’t paying attention. Of course I want to pay for the damage. I’m calling my insurance company right now.” That’s a perfectly good apology in my book. She’s taking responsibility and trying to make amends.
And the offense was unintentional.
When I was 6 years old my dad still smoked. One day he playfully swept me up into his arms, and my shoulder brushed the cigarette in his mouth. “Ouch!” I said. I’ll never forget the pain in Dad’s eyes as he kissed the burn to try to “make it well.” I had a true epiphany that I clearly remember. I thought, How strange. It hardly hurts at all when someone is sorry. Dad didn’t say he was sorry, but I knew he was in my deepest six-year-old self.
Intentionality matters – or at least, it should. A husband who stayed out all night and brings home roses isn’t really apologizing – he’s trying to buy cheap grace.
A good apology might be defined by how it strikes the recipient. Even when “I’m sorry” is spoken sincerely, the speaker cannot control whether it will be received. To some people words matter. It doesn’t feel like a true apology without “I was wrong. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.” Others who were wronged might prefer to see the offender make amends.
Whether in words or in actions, an expression of regret is important because it opens a path to forgiveness. If an offer of restitution is accepted, if it strengthens or restores balance to a relationship and facilitates forgiveness, it’s probably safe to assume no words are needed. As Ronald Reagan reportedly said about Communism, “If it walks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.”
Forgiveness is key. If whatever is done evokes forgiveness, that’s good enough.
That’s because forgiveness brings a triple blessing: It frees the perpetrator from the burden of guilt; it melts the bitterness of resentment the victim may be carrying; and it not only heals the relationship, but makes it even stronger at the broken place.
Beyond Dispute Associates
© Carolyn Parr and Beyond Dispute Associates, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carolyn Parr and Beyond Dispute Associates with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.