Monday, December 22, 2008

Should I Apologize (part two)


Unfortunately I did not realize the utter hypocrisy of that letter until years later when I was on the receiving end of such foolishness….

In this relationship a different friend, (yes, I know, it’s a wonder I have any left), and I had come to a point where we were not talking more than the obligatory Namaste if we happened to meet at Temple.

One day, however, I got cornered. He looked as if he were about to cry and blurted out. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry I treated you that way. I was wrong, will you ever be able to forgive me.”

Needless to say my ego was somewhat mollified by this display and at the same time I felt a bit sorry myself for all that had gone wrong between us. And then “it” happened. Actually, to this very day, I am still not sure what “it” was but “it” left me feeling more betrayed than I had before.

After the initial bearing of his soul he went on to explain how actually it was the circumstances surrounding the issue that was the actual problem. He was going through a particularly tough time and actually needed to vent and I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. But also, (and this is where the “it” happened), if I had not responded with such resentment to his outbursts then none of this would have gotten out of hand and perhaps I have some unresolved issues I need to work through…

He went from him “being completely at fault”, to my being the problem with my “unresolved issues” in about 4.7 seconds. By the time he walked away he had extracted an apology form me and I was almost in tears!

These two incidents combined convinced me that there is something about apologizing that I needed to figure out. Something more than the usual admonishment to make sure our apologies are sincere. We all “know” that our apologies should be sincere. Something was missing, I wasn’t getting it, and something needed to be addressed.

I took up residence at Barnes and Nobles; I hit the lecture circuit, as a participant, and annoyed the speakers with a barrage of questions. I contacted old school teachers and instructors back in India and was not making much headway. I then wrote to an old school chum, (I haven’t run out of them yet though I am going through them like a scythe through wheat), and laid my dilemma out.

He wrote back: “Andre, [actually he didn’t call me Andre but I am determined to keep that nickname in the past], where in the shastra, [Hindu scripture] do you find the word apology? It’s not there. The word used in the Shastra is forgiveness. You are wasting your time studying about apologies, concentrate on how to seek and ask for forgiveness.”

That changed my way of thinking entirely. Now that I was pointed in the right direction and I knew what to look for the beginnings of understanding began to dawn on me. I renewed my lease at Barnes and Nobles with a different paradigm in mind.

Then came the “Aha” experience. On one of my nomadic travels through Barnes & Nobles I happened upon a treasure of a book, “Forgiveness: A Bold Choice for a Peaceful Heart”, by Robin Casarjian. After reading that book and coupling it with the philosophy I’d learned over the years it all made sense.

Don’t Apologize!

Don’t apologize as I did, to grab the moral high ground. Don’t apologize as a ploy to extract an apology from the other. Don’t apologize because you feel wronged, you want the other to know that you feel wronged and thus want them to feel guilty. Don’t apologize so that you can have a feeling of benevolence and being the “better man”. Don’t apologize to gain a sense of power over another. Don’t apologize to gain favorable public opinion. Don’t apologize to appease someone other than the person you have trespassed. Don’t apologize if, in actuality, you want and expect an apology in return. Don’t apologize without accepting full and complete responsibility and accountability for your actions. Don’t apologize if you cannot accept responsibility without attempting to qualify, rationalize or justify your actions.

So, should you apologize… for any of the above reasons I mentioned.

Absolutely not!

While a sincere apology is a step in the right direction we have to go farther if we want to create and sustain strong, committed and healthy relationships.

A Different Mindset:

Firstly let’s stop giving what we think the other person needs, that is the first problem. Let’s do away with the arrogant, insensitive mindset that got us into trouble in the first place. Let’s do away with the mentality that I am offering an apology and you’d better accept it. Let’s do away with the idea that because I apologized I am now off the hook.

Instead let’s ask for and seek forgiveness. Let us accept full accountability for our actions and behavior without rationalization or qualification. Let us seek forgiveness and then bear the consequences. What a novel idea!

With an apology we are closed off to being influenced by the other person. We are giving them only what we wish to give and no more regardless of their true needs. We make the mistake of trying to give them something. Instead we should try to receive. We should try to receive understanding. We should try to receive knowledge. We should try to receive wisdom. These attributes are what we require in order create and sustain healthy relationships.

The only way we can receive these gifts is by asking; asking for forgiveness. This is not rocket-science. By asking for forgiveness we allow the other to express and thereby mitigate the hurt we have inflicted.

An apology can imply: “I have apologized, now shut-up and get over it”. By asking for forgiveness we are in effect saying: “Tell me how I have wronged you. Tell me what I should do so that it does not happen again with you or anyone else”

Seeking forgiveness in this manner requires an enormous amount of personal strength and maturity.

Think of it. When we are wronged what is the first thing we do? We find the nearest ear and unload with a vengeance.

By practicing forgiveness we allow the other to give voice to their hurt and we come away with a greater understanding and deeper wisdom so as not to repeat our foolishness.

Case History

The difficulty is that the ability to ask for forgiveness requires a level of internal strength, maturity and security that is hard to come by. The following case history is instructive.

Several years ago when I was consulting for a Hindu temple in Sweden I was asked to mediate between the administration and the Temple’s disaffected youth.

To be continued…..

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