In an earlier post, I wrote about the difference between a present and a gift. I submit that a present is something that is purchased or given simply because it is expected that you will give something. We send our kids to birthday parties with presents and sometimes our own children don’t even know what’s inside the wrapping paper. No real thought given to the present, we just have to give something.
A gift can be purchased, but it also comes with some level of meaning attached to it. Some time has been spent thinking about what would be the perfect gift for a particular individual. A ring is a lovely present for a wife on Valentine’s Day, but a Mother’s ring with a stone representing each of your children is a well-thought-out gift.
Could we apply that same concept to an apology? Should an apology be a present, or a gift? Do you sometimes say, “I’m sorry” even though you don’t really believe you were at fault? Or do you say you are sorry, but then spend several moments explaining why you were justified in your behavior. Why would you even bother apologizing in that case, you obviously don’t really mean it?
The power of an apology is profound, if given as a gift. Think about the last time you and your spouse had a disagreement. Voices may have been raised, hurtful things may have been spoken, and at the end of the incident both of you are feeling angry and misunderstood. Both of you have hastily built up a defensive barrier that neither of you is eager to cross.
Now you have an important decision to make. How do you knock down that barrier? How do you open up the lines of communication again? It doesn’t really even matter if you were at fault; you still have a stake in trying to fix things.
This is the power of a sincere apology. Once it is offered, those barriers seem to come down quickly. It may not be instantly, and your spouse may still need some additional time to process his/her feelings, but you have provided the opening that they can take hold of when they are ready.
However, if an apology is given simply as another way to re-introduce your points of the argument (“I’m sorry that we argued, but if you would only…”) then the apology is negated and the opportunity to diffuse the situation is wasted.
We need to stop trying to justify ourselves through our apologies. If you’re going to say it, mean it. And then stop talking.
Let’s treat the apology as a real gift that we put some time and thought into and give it sincerely. Don’t treat it as a present that we just picked up on our way through the checkout stand because it was within reach and didn’t cost much.