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Learning to Apologize

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I apologize for a living. I don’t talk about it much, but my day job involves a great deal of apologizing to patients and their families when they haven’t had a great experience. It really is an art form when doing it for work. But it hasn’t been until recently that I’ve really started working on what apology means and looks like in my personal life.

I’ve always been bad at apologizing. Internally, I get eat up with guilt when I’ve done something wrong or hurtful to someone else, and I often just left it there. I let myself be ok with feeling guilty because that at least meant I wasn’t a bad person. If I could feel bad about it, then at least my heart and compassion were in the right place. But, I’m learning that unless I actually make amends and apologize, those feelings are more for me than the other person.

It sort of all came to a front when I read Be the Bridge by Latasha Morrison on vacation this summer. The book beautifully lays out a discussion on racial reconciliation. Reading that book and how she explains the steps to making wrongs right really clicked for me. In doing the heart-work of being an anti-racist, I also discovered that I needed to be better at owning, apologizing and reconciling when I’m wrong in all aspects of my life. 

I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts about apology, vulnerability and courage (cue all things Brene Brown), and it’s reinforcing what’s laid on my heart which is to actually open my mouth to apologize and reconcile the situation appropriately. I learned I have to take it even a step further than just apologizing, but to make amends. Make it right. Here’s how I saw that happen actually really quickly in my life.

I was recently with a group of friends, and another girl’s name came up in conversation. She’s not someone I particularly like for many reasons, but instead of keeping my mouth shut, I went on a rant about how much I didn’t like her. In the moment, I felt justified in what I said because it felt like I had to prove my own opinions of this girl to my friends. And in doing that, I was seeking validation of my feelings about her waiting for them to agree. When I got home that night, I felt like absolute shit for what I said. I risked my own reputation in trying to prove someone else’s. Normally, I would just sit with those horrible, gut-wrenching feelings then move on. But this time, I was intentional to reach out to each of my friends and apologize for saying those things. And even though they were super gracious about it, I wanted to make sure that they knew I was wrong in what I said. 

For me, I want apologizing to become an organic part of my character. I mess up. I make mistakes. I’m not perfect. And although it’s one thing to recognize that and own it, it also requires me to apologize and make those wrongs right. In learning this and being very intentional about it lately, I have experienced a new sense of freedom too. It helps me feel more at peace that, no matter the outcome of the apology, I tried to make it right and acknowledged the wrong that I did. It means caring more about others than my own pride and protection. It takes a lot of vulnerability to apologize, and I’m working on it.