Forgiveness Happens

A number of years ago, I was driving school bus for some event, and a kid was sitting directly behind me, lamenting that his teacher had been hard on him for misbehaving. After his whining had gone on for a while, I asked him this question:

“Danny … would you like it if your teacher fell over and died?”

He responded, “Whaaaaat?”

“Yaa … how would you like to be able to do something that would stop your teacher’s heart, and no one will pin the blame on you?”

He looked at me like I was daft … which might have been true.

I said to Danny, “All you have to do is look your teacher in the eye, and say ‘I’m sorry … I was wrong … and it won’t happen again.’ If you say that to her … and mean it, chances are quite good that she will fall over and die.”

We live in a culture where sincerely apologizing is all too rare. I don’t remember witnessing it all that many times in my life. In recent years, I’ve been trying to regain my ability to do this. The anatomy of a good apology is simple:

“I’m sorry”. Demonstrate a heartfelt acknowledgement of my empathy for the damage I have done.

“I was wrong”. I recognized the insult or injury that I have caused by my wrongful word or deed, not minimizing the problem.

“It won’t happen again”. I am stating with my best intention to live such that I will not repeat my behavior.

I read a story a couple of years ago about a hospital in Michigan that, when there was an error made by a doctor or nurse, rather than doing everything they could to cover up the mistake, they brought the family and all medical staff involved together, acknowledged every detail of what had happened, apologized for their mistake and reviewed options about how they might move forward in providing care for the patient. The result was a 75% drop in malpractice suits.

Now for the other side of this experience … forgiveness. Just as we aren’t very good at apologizing, we likewise aren’t very good at forgiving. There is a whole lot of power in maintaining a grudge. There seem to be instances of people maintaining a grudge for generations. (Hatfields and McCoys?)

Forgiveness involves trust. One dilemma is the risk of re-offense. How can you forgive when there is every possibility that the villain will be reckless or mean again in the future? I’m pretty sure that as long as it’s humans that we are talking about, there will be opportunity for re-offense. But the other question is as to whether or not the person who insists on holding the grudge suffers more than anyone.

There is that old expression – ‘forgive and forget’. It may be that when we forgive, our head will remember, but our heart will forget.

Just a thought … DonC


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