The Architecture of an Apology


I screwed up. Blew it. Goofed. I made a mistake.

This time it wasn’t a life altering, horrible thing. It was a couple of missed things on a dealie and caused someone else to have to work some hours to fix it. Not great, right? But not a heavy thing that cost someone money or impugned their reputation or caused some kind of lasting damage.

This really got me thinking. I felt bad; not a soul sucking guilt-and-shame bad. But an appropriate amount of “ah, shoot, that’s me, my bad” kind of bad. I apologized and got back a kind and not inappropriate “don’t beat yourself up” reply. This is something I am very good at. I can’t do calculus or a cartwheel, but I am an absolute expert at rolling something around in my mind forever, replaying my mistake and beating myself up.

But this was not one of those times. I truly wanted to own what I messed up and acknowledge it and let this person know I saw that it caused them trouble. Tickety-boo, done.

So then I started thinking about things that have happened that don’t feel resolved; a whole bunch of things from all kinds of sides. What about that time I caused someone to have the worst day of their life? Or the time I felt thrown under the bus and just can’t seem to let it go? What about things that I screwed up in the midst of deep depression and now that I’m on the other side I can see that the harm was way bigger than the pitiful apology I muttered from the dark pit? Should I go back? Should I check in with that awful day person, again? Should I just let that other thing go?

Now I’m totally obsessed with apology. Why do we do it? What is the best way to apologize? How do we accept apologies? Is there a way to reconcile after a nasty wrong? How does relationship play in what works or doesn’t work? What about job vs. personal life offenses?

After long and arduous research, or you know, asking my friends on Facebook here’s what I know:

  • Women are being told to stop apologizing and while many of us do say “sorry” for bumping into inanimate objects, things we are not responsible for and breathing (raises hand) which has GOT to stop, there is still a time to own up to what I’ve screwed up and take steps to not do it again.
  • Work relationships are different than personal life. Moving on can be part of doing your job.
  • People sometimes hang on to offense like a coat of armor. I can’t fix it from here. They need to get out the can opener and peel off the armor so my apology can get in. Painful but true– I can’t always fix it.
  • Saying “here’s what I did, I wish I hadn’t done it, and here’s what I wish I had done” seems to be a simple formula that I think works just about everywhere.
  • “If” and “but” never belong in an apology.
  • Asking for forgiveness can be manipulative. People forgive on their own time (or don’t, see can opener above).

If I step back and look at what is flowing through the whole issue of how we handle screwing up, what seems to matter the most is the relationship. How am I connected to you before the offense, after the offense, during the offense and next to the offense. How we are connected to one another makes a huge impact on how I get back to “all good” or at least “better for now”.

Screwing up, making mistakes, blowing it; it’s all a part of walking around this earth in a human body with a human soul and a human heart. May I learn to do a little less apologizing to a chair for bumping into it, a little more loving people who have done something that deserved an apology to me, and a little more sincere communication that brings me back to “pretty good” after messing up.

May we all keep holding hands and hanging on and moving forward in the best way we can, at least for today.


2 Replies to “The Architecture of an Apology”

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