On Friday I was consumed by righteous indignation and disgust at a comment that a lawyer I know on social media platforms had written. I told him so and “Unfollowed.”
On Sunday evening, he apologised to me directly, on Twitter.
I was surprised by this apology and challenged as well. It occurred to me that the recipients of apologies often are.
- What do I now do with this apology?
- How does it reposition the offender in my eyes?
- What responsibility to re-evaluate does the apology now place at my feet? Am I prepared to pick up that responsibility, and if I do, what do I then do with it?
Part of me was still angry, wanted to dismiss this apology, reduce it down to a nothingness, to a mere “Oh, he would say that wouldn’t he?” and another part of me was reacting very differently. It was hard to understand what that other part was feeling and then I realised that it was compassion… but that means that I have got work to do now, and I was quite comfortable in my cartoon world of heroes and villains.
This apology was incredibly effective because it had no whiff of self preservation, distancing or making the offence abstract or conditional. It was unequivocal. It read, very simply;
U r so right and I am dreadfully sorry.
What was I going to do with that?
No response would have been the easiest thing. Responding rejecting his apology was also a choice I had.
I went instead with what I was feeling and responded warmly;
I appreciate your guts in that ######. Good on you and I hope the incident passes. Keep well.
And I am so glad I did.
Sometimes it is easier to hold onto the demonised caricatures that we are quick to sketch out in a flashing judgment, but this straightforward apology cut through that.
We subsequently spoke on the phone. He told me of the horror he felt at the awful moment he realised how his twitter comment looked. When he spoke it was clear that he felt deep anguish and shame about what had happened and in that moment he was incredibly, unbearably human; a man, as imperfect as you or I, trying to get through life, living honestly, honourably, without hurting others or causing offence and being truly shocked to realise that they have not only been capable of doing so but actually had done so.
He was as fallible as we all are and in our conversation I realised that in his error and faults I saw my own fears, some of my own past mistakes and those that doubtlessly lie ahead in my future.
“Oh Lord, that I might ever be capable of getting it so spectacularly wrong myself. “
That is a vulnerability that I would rather not admit to feeling and, within my righteous indignation, in my denegration of this man and my assumptions about his motives, thoughts and character, maybe what we do in part is try to calm our own fears, that we might ever fall into a similar hole. It is far easier to reassure ourselves by demonising “Them” and therefore distancing them from us, making them different and not at all like you or me.
A few points therefore;
- A clear, unequivocal apology can quickly cut through the demonisation.
- When we receive an apology such as this, whether we had asked for it or not, we have a responsibility to handle it with respect and courtesy.
- When we do that then we join the apologist in a kind of redemption – not only of their misdemeanour but also our own rush of condemnation… and when we do that then maybe we learn a little more about ourselves as well as learning a whole lot about them.