It’s been a hot, sticky week, and if all human beans are like Them, there will have been some awkward moments when toes have been trodden on, misunderstandings have multiplied and typhoons in tea-cups have rattled the domestic calm. So here is a little lesson in how to apologize by one who is an expert in the subject. I seem to have to say sorry so often — for muddy paw-prints on the floor; positioning myself beside the oven when food is being taken from it; not hearing when I’m called; you know the kind of thing human beans get cross about. My eyes and tail are very eloquent when I have to say sorry, but human beans have to make do with mere words, which often seem to make things worse. So here are a few pointers from me you may find useful the next time you have to apologize.
Let’s begin with what we all know best: how to get it wrong. There are a few phrases you should try very hard to avoid or you may find yourself in the dog-house for ever.
The Wrong Way To Apologize
- I apologize for any offence that may have been caused.
- I’m sorry if you were offended.
- I’m sorry if you found what I said or did offensive.
- I’m sorry if I offended you.
All that ‘iffiness’ is unconvincing. Before we apologize, we have to acknowledge that we have done something wrong, even if we gave offence unintentionally. For some human beans that is almost an impossibility. ‘I have been misunderstood,’ they cry, or, ‘you must have had a humour by-pass,’ they say, as though the offence were somehow the fault of the one to whom the apology is due. Such apologies don’t usually end very well, believe me. No, you have to (wo)man-up to things and face facts, however hard that may be.
Then there are all those clever little additions which tend to undermine the apology — limitation clauses such as
- In my defence, it was not entirely my fault (Calculating exact degrees of culpability probably won’t restore harmony.)
- You can’t blame me for not knowing (But are you sure — shouldn’t you have known?)
- It was the dog/the boss/Eve (i.e. Blame anyone but me—I’m the victim here. Not a good tactic.)
- I was only doing what I was told. (Unfortunately, the excuse of mass-murderers and the like. Not recommended.)
or attempts to claim the moral high-ground with phrases like
- Christian charity forbids my saying more. (Christian charity is probably what was wanting in the first place.)
- I acted from the purest of motives but . . . (Possibly you did; more probably you didn’t.)
Contrast all these with
The Right Way to Apologize
- I’m sorry.
Now, I know I am only a dog, but it seems to me that a simple ‘I’m sorry’ is the best apology there is. No ‘ifs’ or ‘buts’, please; no self-justifying rehearsal of the original grievance by way of exculpation; no attempt to wriggle out of things by blaming someone else, the medicine you have to take or the weather being too hot/too cold. If you’re sorry, say so — as simply and quickly as you can; then do your best to put things right.
But what if you can’t say sorry or put things right? Say the human bean you have injured is now dead, for example, or refuses to have anything to do with you? Then I think you must put your paws together and ask God to do what you cannot. He knows about forgiveness, after all. He doesn’t want you to be burdened with feelings of false guilt and shame. He wants you to be what he intended you to be from the beginning— a true image and likeness of himself — and he wants the other human bean to be like that, too. That doesn’t quite let you off the hook, of course. You have to try to put things right, if you can. Don’t use prayer as an excuse for not doing something you find difficult or don’t really want to do.
Lastly, I will let you into a BIG secret. We dogs share a very wonderful quality with our Creator. We forgive utterly. That doesn’t mean we don’t register unkindness or unfairness, or that we don’t consider them important. It’s simply that we don’t hold grudges or prolong quarrels. So, if you are having trouble apologizing, just try being more doggy. It won’t necessarily make everything better all at once, but it may open you up to becoming the human bean you are meant to be; and that will result in your becoming much nicer — nice enough, even, to be owned by a PBGV.* 😉
*P.S. I’m still working on Them. They have a long way to go to becoming nice, but it’s my vocation, and I enjoy a challenge.
P.P. S. The community retreat begins tonight, Saturday, 11 June, and last until Saturday, 18 June. Please keep Them in your prayers as They will keep you.