Children and adults alike are used to saying the words ‘Sorry and ‘it’s alright. These phrases have become commodities and seldom ‘mean’ anything in daily usage. It seems apology cancels out forgiveness. This is not true.
Let us look at what it means to forgive, first.
Forgive is a verb and the dictionary meaning of it is ‘to stop feeling angry or resentful towards (someone) for an offence, flaw, or mistake.’
However, if you understand the meaning correctly you will notice that this kind of forgiving cannot be voluntary. Feeling angry or resentful is a reaction, something that happens in itself. And for the same reason ‘stopping to be resentful or angry’ is also involuntary. So if this is so, can we really forgive anyone at will?
That is why we need to understand ‘forgiving’ in a new light- as an act of understanding. To forgive means to acknowledge the hurt and process it emotionally and intellectually. It is to reach a level of maturity in understanding with respect to the other person, the law of causality and more importantly with respect to the hurt itself. It is meant to reduce the pain of the hurt and doesn’t undo the hurt or wrongdoings altogether. It doesn’t and cannot acquit the other person of his misdeeds.
Let us look at what it means to apologise now. To apologise, as per the dictionary, means to express regret for something that one has done wrong. ‘I am sorry.’ Or at best saying ‘I am deeply sorry.’
When we hurt someone by our words or deeds and apologise for it, we do not undo the hurt. The damage is done. The person may forgive us but as we have seen above, the person has only protected himself/herself from more pain and not simply forgotten the hurt and moved on as if nothing really happened.
So what is the right apology? It is one that offers an expression of regret along with an offer to redress the hurt by some means. ‘How can I help overcome this hurt? How can I be of help?’
A commitment to help the person heal is needed. This is the best we can do. Actions have consequences and words alone cannot restore the damage. Words can only express regret and intent to help the person heal.
This is hard to do. We are all in a hurry to move on and start afresh. And in this hurry, we leave behind a trail of hurts. And we teach the same way of transacting with the world to our children. Is it any wonder that we think that the world is harsh and ruthless?
Our children don’t really care about hurting others if all that they need to do to undo it is say ‘sorry’. It is not a natural behaviour to apologise and help a person heal. When they hurt someone, let us them point out the damage they might have done and ask how they can help restore or heal it. Seek a commitment and help them fulfil it.
Understanding forgiveness and apology is only a first step.