Is your apology offensive?
Have you ever made things worse by apologizing or actually upset someone with your apology? In today's blog, we are going to talk about ways that apologies could be offensive and how to avoid doing so.
Having worked for several years with women in recovery, a major part of the 12 step recovery process is making amends and I have had to coach several people through that process - through the process of reaching out to people, apologizing, and dealing with the aftermath of people not being willing to forgive.
"I'm so sorry that I hated you in my heart all these years? Will you please forgive me?"
How would you handle the above apology? What if you didn't know the person apologizing ever hated you? How would you handle it knowing that now?
Making amends is a huge step in the 12 step process. Saying "I'm sorry" or admitting you are wrong can be one of the most difficult and humbling things for us humans. If a person is willing to submit to this process, what could possibly go wrong...right?
First of all, it is important to understand the difference between "known" wrongs and "unknown" wrongs. What does THAT mean? Is that professional jargon? Nope. It is actually just my own reflection having navigated the apologizing, amending, and forgiving process in both my own life and together with dozens of individuals.
What I mean by "known" vs "unknown" is does the person you are apologizing to know the wrong that you have committed against them? For example, you cussed them out to their face or you stole something from them. They might not know that YOU are the one who stole something but they are missing that thing which you stole. In the case of cussing someone out to their face - they deserve your apology. In the case of stealing something from someone - admitting what you've done and committing to restitution (either replacing the thing stolen or giving an amount of money worth the value of the thing stolen).
What I mean by "unknown" is maybe you have secretly harbored hatred in your heart towards an individual for a period of time, long or short. If you have not acted on this hatred by doing or saying something hateful to the individual then I do NOT recommend approaching the individual and making your hatred known through an apology. Why not?
Well, if it truly hasn't been acted upon then the person you have hated is more than likely oblivious to your hatred. If you approach that person and apologize by saying, "I'm so sorry that I have hated you so much for the past year" - that kind of apology can actually create an offense because now the person first has to process the fact that you have hated them and then be forced into dealing with forgiving this newfound knowledge. Before you apologized to them, they were not offended towards you at all. Now you've created a stumbling block (the knowledge that you have hated them) to BECOME offended towards you.
The Bible gives a method for dealing with offense and it actually names the offended party first! Matthew 18:15-17 tells the offended party to approach the offender and deal with the offense privately between the two. Now, I don't believe that this removes the impetus from someone apologizing for a "known" offense. The reason I believe the Bible places the impetus upon the offended party to approach the offender is because I believe a LOT of offense is unintentional and the party who has offended is completely unaware as to what they have done.
Final thoughts - 1) be humble and admit when you have done something wrong towards someone; 2) work out confession and forgiveness of internal issues (such as harboring hatred in your heart towards someone) between you and God; 3) if you are offended at someone, approach them ONLY (don't go run and tell everybody you know what a horrible person you think the offender is) and let them know about your offense and allow them the opportunity to make it right (and know that MOST offenses ARE unintentional and MOST offenders ARE oblivious - give people the same grace you would want others to extend to you).