Alexander Pope, the 18th century poet rightly said, “To err is human; to forgive, divine.” Mistakes are a part of our living. Every time we make a mistake, we learn and grow. If we have not made any mistakes, we are most likely to have not learnt much. While making mistakes is human and natural, to be able to forgive is divine and special.
Seek forgiveness. As you know, not all mistakes are readily forgiven. We are forgiven only if the other knows that their forgiveness means something to us. Once they know that we are genuinely sorry, they find it worth to forgive. So, when we are at fault, feeling guilty is not sufficient. Asking for an apology makes the difference. A sincere apology is almost always accepted – even if it may take time! And doing so heals the seeker as well as the giver.
Don’t disappear with guilt. Sometimes, we may feel guilty about a mistake to the extent that we don’t want to face the person. We’d rather disappear with guilt than appear with an apology. In doing so, we are allowing a person to remain mistaken about our mistake. The lack of regret or apology makes it feel like the guilty doesn’t care enough – and hence, hurts even more. It almost feels like a betrayal because they never get to know that we were actually feeling sorry about what happened.
Apology preferred over an excuse. There are other times, when we may show up, not with an apology, but an excuse. For example: “Yeah! Heard you were in a crisis but see – because I stayed away, you were able to learn for yourself. And that’s exactly why I stayed away!” This might appear as being insensitive to what they have gone through while justifying our failure to be there. Stating an excuse is like not wanting to own up to our behaviour. After all, no excuse can be as good as a genuine apology. It might not be the easiest thing to face someone we have wronged and ask for an apology – but, if that person matters, then it may be the best thing to do. It strengthens the relationship further. Even if they react, we are in a better place to understand because we really care. On the contrary, if we carry our ego everywhere, all we get is a big bubble to live in – that may burst anytime. If people are important, we let go of self. If only self is important, we may be letting go of people. Nothing right or wrong, but depends on what’s important to us in that context.
Relationship over self. An apology is never known to have hurt anyone greater than an excuse. And an excuse is never known to have had a greater acceptance than an apology. If we are focused only on making ourselves feel better, we will look to justify ourselves. But if we truly care for the other as much as we care for ourselves, we’ll own up and apologize since we value the relationship.
Say it like you mean it. When we say sorry like we mean it, we should also ensure we don’t repeat it. New mistakes are more easily forgiven. But repeating the same mistakes are hard to get over. It may feel like we have made sorry-telling a habit. The more we repeat a sorry with same person over similar instances, the lesser becomes our credibility. It’s unlike other things, where the more we repeat the more perfect we get.
Rules change. While all of this holds true when we make a mistake, it may not be helpful to have the same yardstick when we have been wronged. When others make a mistake, and don’t ask for forgiveness, let’s forgive them anyway. May not be because they deserve it, but because we deserve mental peace. You may wonder why the rules of the game are different for others and different for self. Well, that’s because, the only person we can change is ourselves. If we expect others to be in a certain way, it may happen or it may not happen. However, when it comes to self, we can completely be the way we want to be – and thereby, be a powerful example for those around us. Gandhi said, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong”. When we forgive, we are stronger. The mistakes appear small and unimportant and we are able to let go of it. It’s not the mistakes that are important. It is the learning that they each had to offer. If we are humble, we seek forgiveness. If we are divine, we forgive. And we can always choose to be humbly divine.