Apologizing is the New Superpower
A friend of mine got into a minor car accident recently. When I asked her if she was okay, she proceeded to tell me she’s fine, but she was more worried about the driver who caused it.
She said he was an older man, and the accident was clearly his fault. She knew it, another driver knew it, and as he emerged from his car, it was clear he also knew it. She said he got out of the car at the intersection and started going up to everyone involved saying, “This was all my fault. I’m so very sorry.”
This immediately softened any anger all of the drivers had, and my friend said they all went over to the man, hugged him, and told him it’s okay.
Usually when you get in a car accident, there's not hugging involved, right? You're more likely to find gritted teeth and blame, which are easy defaults when conflict arises. This man was honest enough to face the truth without making excuses, and the other drivers welcomed his honesty with literally open arms.
People say what a powerful tool forgiveness is in your life, but what’s possibly more powerful is the ability to be vulnerable and admit you messed up. We don't want to be wrong or have people think less of us, so our instinct is to avoid letting others see our mistakes.
But those mistakes are the glue that tie us all together. They're one of the human things we can all count on, and when we can let our guards down and admit our mistake, there's a good chance others will see themselves in us and rush to offer comfort and help because they know soon it will be their turn to need it.
When we do something wrong, our usual response is to quickly look for an excuse to explain why we messed up. Am I alone in this? If I were the driver in this situation, I'm pretty sure I would make excuses like, "I'm so tired from juggling work with being a mom. I guess I just missed seeing that light turn..."
Okay, now that I write that, I'm realizing my response would be to try to make others feel sorry for me, so they'd be manipulated into forgiving me and not being angry. Dang, such a mom move! Buried in there somewhere is an apology, but it's sprinkled with excuses and blame, so the honesty part is a little watered down.
There is power in putting your neck on the line and saying, “You see this mess? I did this, and I’m sorry.” No excuses, and no blame. Just purely facing the ugly truth that exposes us and surrendering to it.
Admitting you messed up isn't a magical happily-ever-after tool where you will always be greeted with hugs after you've crashed into peoples' cars, but I have to believe if more of us started being brave enough to let others in on our humanity a bit more, our relationships, even with strangers, would be deeper.
I try to drill this point down with my kids, who are the masters of making excuses to the point where it's sort of hilarious. The other day I reminded my daughter she still needed to pick up her dirty clothes off the bathroom floor. She immediately started to stumble on her words--which I know from experience means she is trying to think of a reason to not be blamed for this--and started to talk about how her brother was in the hallway and distracted her.
They were her clothes on my bathroom floor, so it was a pretty clear-cut situation as to whose fault it was, so I looked at her at the end of her soliloquy-length explanation, and said, "Are you done? Take a deep breath and just admit you left your clothes there because you simply forgot. It's okay, but I do need you pick up after yourself."
She grinned and apologized as she picked up her clothes.
We can choose to waste energy on excuses and big stories to avoid the truth, but putting our ego aside and admitting we messed up packs more punch. This doesn't mean people won't be annoyed by our actions, but there's a good chance they'll be more understanding.
Apologizing still means we have to try to make it right. By admitting we made a mistake, it shows the other person they can trust us to do just that--make it right--because we truly want to because we are authentically sorry.
Being sorry admits we were wrong, and we find fear in that, but there is actually strength in owning it. It shows others we value them more than we value our self-centered need to be right and flawless. It opens a window where we allow ourselves to be seen, and when we do that, I truly believe it's the start to something better than when we slam it shut.