by Sara Luther
with all due respect...

Apologies matter

Recently, someone apologized to me, for things that may have occurred many years ago that were confusing, alienating, and hurtful. The apology was unexpected. It was heartfelt. It was exactly what I needed when I didn’t know I needed it.

So, I’ve been parsing the multi-dimensions of the apology experience as it is critical to the body of work we’ve accumulated about respect and human rights. (Yes, I believe everything is connected to respect and human rights!)

Specifically, I want to focus on apologies that are authentic and real. There are many more types of apologies (the fake, the side-step, the surface, the in-your-face, the ½ truth, the “sorry I made you feel…”). You know those ones. Let’s stick with exploring the honest, deep, beautiful ones.

Receiving an apology

At its deepest level, receiving an apology is a way to believe someone sees you and wants to honour that your relationship with them matters. It is an offering, an olive branch, that can immediately shift our perspective, our emotional state, our future assumptions.

The outward apology provides an inward validation that you were wronged and that someone cares enough to make it right.

Giving an apology

Giving an apology, is a way to release the accumulated weight of worry and guilt. It frees you from the shackles of doing “nothing” after that “something” happened. To apologize “well” is to allow your humility to shine.

For me, apologizing feels powerful. I know I’m not perfect and do not always act or behaviour or make decisions that consider everyone who will be impacted. When I step into apologizing and owning the specific thing I did and sharing what I wished I had done (or not done!), it provides a chance for my conscious to feel soothed and to pave the path of what that person can expect of me in the future.

Accepting an apology

If giving an apology feels powerful, to accept an apology feels vulnerable to me. It means I must let my guard down, lower the gates. I must trust that the apology is coming from a genuine place and not an opportunistic chess move to have me acquiesce so I stop vigorously protecting my queen.

Yet, if I don’t accept an apology, I also do not benefit from the potential that is on the other side. The chance to repair or build a relationship knowing we’ve practiced humility and vulnerability. To keep my guard up is to let my sense of humanity down. As we’ve learned in our work at Forwardworking, everyone wants the same thing – to be respected, valued and treated fairly.

Learning from apologies

An apology is not a linear experience, it is circular. To practice giving, receiving, and accepting allows us to develop connections with each other that are deeper, richer and steeped in respect.

So, is there someone you need to apologize to? If so, what’s stopping you?