Rita Watson MPH

With Love and Gratitude


An Elegant Apology and the Forgiveness Factor

Even if an apology is not accepted, our ultimate responsibility is to forgive.

Posted Dec 09, 2013

Never let the sun set on your anger
Source: Wikimedia

When we were young, Grandma taught us the meaning of an apology.  With all of the literature regarding the elements of a proper apology, the lesson from Gram still resonates.  Although there are two schools of thought on whether or not one should apologize, in our house we were given no choice.

Gram overhead us talking in our bedroom one evening about an argument we had with a school friend. Within minutes she appeared in the bedroom with our jackets and said, “Get up. We’re going out. Now.”  We didn’t dare to question this women whose face had a perennial smile, until this moment. She marched us to the neighbor’s and, to the surprised dad who opened the door, announced: “My granddaughters are here to apologize to your daughter.”

We wanted to protest. "It was her fault." But we didn’t dare. We simply waited until our friend appeared at the door. Her father had us all hold hands and say, “I’m sorry” over and over again until he believed us.

In the end, we giggled, hugged, and went back home to bed. Gram kissed us good-night and said. “The sun must never set on your anger. Right or wrong, you apologize.”

Couples and baseball

Behavior between couples who become angry with one another can often resemble an exchange between a baseball player and an umpire. One disagrees. The other confronts. Words are exchanged. And then someone is ejected from the game—it happens in baseball and in marriage. What about an apology?

Should apologies be abolished?

This past April NPR presented the flip side of apologies in discussing why one should perhaps not apologize.  

Support and love, by contrast, may be a more effective way to counter the feelings of threat involved in an apology.

The next time junior—or your partner—does something wrong, pass on the stare and try a hug.  Why Not Apologizing Makes You Feel Better: NPR.

Sounds just the way Great Gram treated Grandpa.  When he came home bellowing, she pretended he was still her Prince Charming and greeted him with a hug and a kiss instead of tossing her rolling pin across the room—as we had seen her sister do when her philandering husband came home smelling of perfume.

Sometimes a person needs an apology and here is why

  • To acknowledge how you were hurt
  • To confirm that the other person accepts responsibility
  • To make sure it won’t happen again
  • To reconcile the relationship
  • To restore one'sr reputation

Adapted  from Apologies by Marsha L. Wagner, UCOA Handbook, 2000, and The Ombuds Office at the Universityof Colorado, Boulder. The Power of Apologies—The University Ombuds Office.

An elegant apology

Several years ago we witnessed a lesson in sheer relationship elegance—on the baseball field.  The Tigers’ young pitcher at the time, Armando Galarraga, was deprived of a rare achievement by an umpire’s mistaken call. And he behaved like a gentleman.

With the umpire’s call, the pitcher lost the honor of pitching the 21st perfect game ever played in baseball history. With instant replay, the umpire realized his mistake and tearfully apologized. The Tiger’s pitcher accepted his apology graciously. The exchange was considered a defining moment in baseball.

The forgiveness factor

In the world of forgiveness, there is the one who asks forgiveness and the one who accepts the apology. But even if the apology is not accepted, when we are angry at someone, we are still ultimately responsible for forgiving the other person—even if they are wrong. Refusing to forgive and holding a grudge is dangerous to hearts and health.  Anger imprisons us.

Forgiveness saves our health. Those who are angry, bitter, and determined to “get even” will find that hostility is a predictor of heart attacks as we have learned from the research of Redford Williams, MD, at Duke University. Here is Anger + Metabolic Syndrome = Heart Attack at Psychology Today by Jacob Teitelbaum, MD

As I write this I am reminded of the friends who confided in me their stories of holiday confrontations with spouses and lovers.  These often begin with the dreaded words, “We need to talk.”

When I asked: “Why not just give the guy a pass” I was met with indignation about setting the record straight and making sure they were both on the same path. Sad to say in each case, a bit more flexibility would have produced a better outcome.

In an exchange between the late Professor Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth, and Bill Moyers, the two were talking about the life of marriage. Bill Moyers said:  “The Puritans call marriage the little church within the church.  In marriage, every day you love, and every day you forgive.  It is an ongoing sacrament—love and forgiveness.”

A simple apology with all the "right" points -- this Little Girl's Sincere Apology Note Touches Twitter

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