In the Netflix program “House of Cards” Claire Underwood attempting to motivate her husband, Francis, to be more ruthless says, “My husband doesn’t apologize … not even to me.”
Consider for a moment what it would be like to live in the Clair Underwood post-apology world?
A child says hurtful words to their parents and then goes to play a video game.
A spouse cheats on their mate and is caught, and never offers a word of apology while their spouse of twenty years lay on the bed crying.
Your boss takes your idea and passes it on as their idea, and stares you in the face the entire time?
Is this the world we desire?
So let’s ask when should someone apologize?
If a man abuses a woman and the woman becomes fearful and intimidated she will often “apologize” for things she has no control over. “Honey I’m sorry the doctor’s visit is taking so long.” She does this to keep her husband calm, she knows what happens when he gets frustrated and angry. This is not a good reason to apologize, but she still does it, and we understand why. She can’t control the doctor it is not her fault, but she is the one who will receive the frustration later.
Certainly there are people who profusely apologize and they have no need to. Like the woman above. We understand why she does it, she may even know why she does it, but she shouldn’t have to apologize. There are people who, for whatever reason are always the first to say, “My bad, I’m sorry, please forgive me, pardon me, etc.”
So while some over apologize and others refuse to apologize the question remains, when should someone apologize?
To apologize is a regretful acknowledgment of an offense or failure. It is to admit what, surely everyone knows, we are human. An apology may mean many things to the person on the receiving end, but to those of us admitting failure . . . it only means one thing—–we were in the wrong.
Now some people have a hard time admitting they are wrong. I’m not sure why. To encourage us to admit our failures and to lay claim to our common humanity God has built in incentives to encourage us to apologize (even repent).
This incentive is “forgiveness.” Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense; let’s go of negative emotions such as vengefulness, with an increased ability to wish the offender well. While we the offender—offer an apology, the offended offer forgiveness.
So there would be no misunderstanding one of Jesus’ disciples ask about forgiveness. Specifically he asked “How many times must I forgive someone when they have wronged me.” Jesus answered with “7 x 70” which is not a math equation but an announcement that forgiveness should be offered an infinite number of times. The disciple saw forgiveness as a chore—how many times MUST I make my bed? Where Jesus views forgiveness as a dessert—–why would you ever want to limit the amount of ice cream you can eat? Forgiveness is the good stuff, do it as often as you can.
Of course anyone who has been to Church, even a few times, can tell you an apology is not exactly repentance. Repentance (at least the biblical version) is something akin to changing your mind. Repentance is the activity of reviewing one’s actions and feeling contrition or regret for past wrongs. It also involves a commitment to personal change and the resolve to live a more responsibly. We repent to God and to others.
An apology is an admission that we said or did the wrong thing, there is no promissory note that we will never do it again. Repentance comes with “contrition AND regret” not only do we know it was the wrong thing to do, but our feelings about it are so remorseful we are going to make an effort to change our behavior or words in the future. An apology is about the past. Repentance is about the past and the future. An apology is offered to those we offended, repentance is offered to God and to others.
In the hierarchy of actions—as I see it, repentance is superior to an apology. Yet there are times when only an apology is necessary.
I missed the exit and ended up making us late. So “I apologize for making us late.” No one wants to be late, so my passenger offers forgiveness (it could happen to anyone), and they realize no one wants to be late, so there is no call for a “change of mind” or even “contrition” life is too short. So I got busy telling a story and missed the exit—turn the car around and forget about it.
In my life I am surrounded by people who will apologize and if called for repent. Hopefully I am the same. I suspect we attract each other because we like being human and are tired of pretending we are divine or even on the road to divinity. At times the errors are greater than missing an exit and genuine change is needed.
What makes some people so willing to acknowledge when they are wrong? We could say a healthy theology. Understanding we are humans and that humans fall short goes a long way to creating an apologetic atmosphere. Yet do not overlook the value of forgiveness. If we felt like our wrongs would be logged into a book and replayed from time to time to keep us in our place then we might be a little more rigid about being right. When you know those around you will forgive you and give you another chance then offering an apology is easier.
Of course we test this when we cheat on a spouse, say hurtful words behind someone’s back, or go on the record with an unpopular position, to name a few. These mis-deeds may require more than an apology (but it can get the ball rolling) there may need to be genuine repentance—changing direction.
Now forgiveness does not mean you don’t suffer the consequences. If you cheat on a spouse there will be some consequences. Further the spouse may forgive you, but this does not mean you have not set something in motion that will be with you for a while or a lifetime. You can be forgiven and still get a divorce.
So for apologies and repentance to be prevalent a culture of forgiveness must be present. What does it say when people are unwilling to apologize, much less repent?
Recently a political candidate said something that was a bit over the top about a state in our nation. Well we have all felt threatened and defended ourselves by saying something hurtful or untrue to protect ourselves. For myself I can remember how Auburn fans rejoiced in their victory over Alabama in 2013. It was small of me but I defended myself from the pain when others would write or say something by stating some version of “It wasn’t our year but we will enjoy our 15 national championship, you’ve still have only 2.” You strike me I bleed. It’s small and petty, soI can understand why people say things to defend themselves.
I can sympathize with a politician being pushed in a corner and saying something to defend himself and accidental hurting another. Which brings up the question —-should politician’s apologize? Apparently the answer in the book co-authored by David Axelrod and Karl Rove is NEVER. People are more likely to forget (what you did or said) than forgive what you (said or did) is the political calculation. Maybe, they are correct, maybe forgiveness is not as prevalent as I think or as it once was. It’s not 1956.
When this politician was given an opportunity to apologize—he used the word “apologize” but he did not apologize for what HE said. He refused to give us an opportunity to forgive.
What does this say about people who will not apologize. Most of us have someone we know like this. A co-worker, a boss, a classmate, there is always someone who will never apologize. They will blame you, the weather, the situation, and they never take responsibility.
Twenty years ago another politician made the calculation it would be better to lie than tell the truth and ask for forgiveness. Like the co-worker who will not own up to eating your sandwich in the office frig, this person decided to stare us in the face and lie rather than trust our maturity to forgive. Sadly the calculation may have been correct.
Would we want to live with a person who could not apologize? Would we want to share a home with a person unfamiliar with repentance? What would it be like to live with someone who never thought they did anything wrong?
The wife says, “Your making more work for me, stop it.”
“I don’t know what you are talking about,” answers he husband.
Her response is, “Listen there are only two of us in the house I know you did this.”
“So what if I did,” he replies.
“Don’t you care. At least apologize,” she yells.
“That’s not necessary I’m a good person and I don’t do anything wrong.”
With her hands on her hips the wife replies, “Really, that’s what you are going with. I’m not even asking you to repent or change I’m only asking for the most human of acknowledgment’s that you can’t pick up your clothes.”
Calmly he says, “But like I said—I have not done anything wrong. When you do the right thing you never need to apologize.”
If you are not married yet, here is some free advice. Do not marry someone who will not apologize to you or repent to God.
An apology to some people is a sign of weakness; to Christians it is a sign of our humanity. We are frail, we make mistakes, we repent, confess, apologize and then we can move on.
Maybe what we should repent of first is how we have become a people who are hesitant to forgive. Whether it is our parents, sibling, a politian, or a teacher the people who intersect our lives will make mistakes. At times very large mistakes. Be angry if necessary, but work through it and forgive. Not because they deserve forgiving but because you are human and you need, or will need forgiveness one day. Karma is real, what goes round will come around. Jesus in Matthew’s gospel comments that the way we forgive is the way we will be forgiven. So it is imperative that we become a people who can accept the humanity and brokenness of ourselves and others.
Second we should make the ability to apologize second nature. Once we have the spirit of forgiveness in place, people should be more than willing to raise their hand and say “I’m sorry.” Which means we should practice humility, which is a biblical word for what happens when we repent or apologize. No more will we accept that illogic that apologizing makes a person look weak. No, healing a relationship and accepting responsibility makes a person strong. No more trying to be God and pretending that we are good and we don’t make mistakes, this is beneath the God we worship. God knows, and we should know as well, we were made from dirt not gold.
Third and finally an apology is not an admission of failure but of humanness. Let’s raise the profile of being apologetic. The apology business is in need of a makeover or a spokesperson.
Sean Penn, the director and actor, has said and done things and when asked if he is sorry or willing to apologize his answer is no.
Ted Nugent, the rock and roll legend has said disbarring comments and is often proven wrong and yet he does not apologize.
There are too many politicians to name
Many a preacher has been caught in lies and immorality, and for the most part, we have apologized although I can think of a few of haven’t.
Yet I think we may already have a spokesperson for the apology business, his name is Steve Harvey. Steve made a big mistake, or as Donald Trump would say, “huge.” He announced the wrong winner to the Miss Universe pageant. Afterwards he immediately apologized in person and in the media. Even this week, on his afternoon television show, he hosted Miss Columbia and again apologized to her face. Steve did not look weak, he looked like a man. The kind of man a mother would be proud of. The kind of man who does not make excuses or claim to be perfect, but the kind that knows “to err is human to forgive divine.” A sign of divinity is not being without misstep or flaw, but to forgive when hurt. The scripture says and a little child shall lead them, in this case our inspiration comes from the most unlikely of sources, the host of Family Feud.