The Fine Art of Apology

I don’t remember exactly when it was that I made my first mistake but I’d reckon I wasn’t terribly old. For the sake of this momentary discussion, I’m omitting such things as waking up at an awkward hour when my dairy-farming father was trying to enjoy one of his few hours of regular sleep. Might as well skip forward a few months and also exclude those first few efforts at putting on my own shoes and getting right and left mixed up. Actually, it probably wasn’t so much a matter of getting them mixed up as not having quite figured out what the subtle differences were between the two. Nowadays, of course, it seems a lot simpler to see at least some of the differences between right and left, what with all the hollering folks do about those two. Frankly, I’m still pretty happy with being able to get Shoe One and Shoe Two on their respective sides of the Great Divide.

Not only can I not remember that first mistake, I also can’t remember exactly when it was that I learned what to do about it. Whether it struck me that way at the time or not, the proper response seems remarkably simple to me now: admit it, apologize for it, make it right—if you can, and move on. Over the past several decades, I’ve made so many mistakes that I’ve gotten pretty darn good at that admitting and apologizing thing. Now, it was never my ambition to become good at it, just seemed inevitable given the excessive degree of humanity which manifested itself in me. In spite of that, I have to admit being more than a little puzzled at the lack of skill I have seen in a few other people.

Maybe it’s the simplicity of it that makes it so confoundably hard for some folks to follow the process. They can squirm around, stare at the ground and the sky at the same time, find fourteen other folks to blame and twice that many excuses to make. Or they’ve just got some slimy slick way of making it sound like there really wasn’t a mistake or else we’re just too blasted stupid to comprehend the true nature of the situation. “I assure you that a few billion gallons of crude oil actually has a beneficial effect on the aquatic environment… if you could actually understand the science involved.”

Some interchange on whether the foundation of that sort of response is due to pride or prejudice or psychiatric impairment might make for a few hours of interesting discussion in the lobbies and cubbyholes of some psychological society meeting somewhere. I’d guess there’d be at least as many different opinions as there are people present. Introduce particular libations into the equation and the number of expressed opinions would likely increase since what some people claim they believe seems to vary with the level of intoxification, err, inebriation, I mean.

Regardless of the explanations and modes of persuasion, here’s my more or less bottom line on the whole making and taking ownership on mistakes: to the full degree possible, have nothing at all to do with people who won’t or can’t admit being wrong. Anyone who has a problem apologizing for having “oopsed” on something should never be allowed to be in charge of anything or anybody. If you have to work with someone like that, you’ll probably earn your Really Totally Aggravated Merit Badge in fairly short order. If you have to work for someone like that, Boy Howdy! Ought to be a monetary award for each week you manage to do your job without accruing any assault charges!

It’s a bit maddening to have various aspects of our lives controlled by folks who never acquired the humble talent of admitting mistakes, bad choices or wrong decisions. Unless you love seeing how many shades of red, blue or purple you can make show up in the mirror, don’t hold your breath waiting for them to change. You’re more likely to see positive progress in politics.

What you can do though, that will help you, them and all of us: pray for ’em. Just as if you really meant it.

H. Arnett

About Doc Arnett

Native of southwestern Kentucky currently living in Ark City, Kansas, with my wife of twenty-nine years, Randa. We have, between us, eight children and twenty-eight grandkids. We enjoy singing, worship, remodeling and travel.
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