Anatomy of a sincere apology

The words ‘I am sorry’ must include some important components if they are to be effective

There is an African adage that, when directly translated, says: “Axes in one sack will not fail to smash against each other.”For two people who are in an intimate relationship, rubbing each other the wrong way is quite normal.Earlier this year, as news of Covid-19 hit the airwaves, the government asked families to limit movement. This restriction did not go down well with many people. Recreational spaces were shut down.   Get-away or hide-away restaurants where lovers would individually run to for some space to cool down after a fightwere temporarily out of reach.

When one’s sense of what is right is violated in a conflict, the resulting angerfractures how two people relate.A wrong that goes on without being dealt withbecomes the elephant in the room that calls for an apology. One’s conscience or sense of morality should be the source of apology for the sake of mending fences. A sincere apology is the catalyst for changing the emotional climate to foster forgiveness and reconciliation.

My son has a habit of saying sorry anytime he wants to escape the wrath of the rod or gain privileges that might otherwise be denied due to indiscipline. In other words, his apology is prone to insincerity. Have you ever come across an apology from your loved one that doesn’t sound sincere?Allow me to share what I believe is a good template for the practice of apologising sincerely.

Communicateregret: Showing remorse over a wrong done is the genesis of a sincere apology. Expressing regret gives room to show understanding that theoffencecaused pain and hurt to the offended party. Regret is the womb that births apology. It allows one to appreciate the breach of trust, the disappointment and inconvenience caused by one’s actions. The magic words “I am sorry”, said truthfully, will go a long way towards restoring any goodwill that was lost.

Accept responsibility: “I know what I did hurt you” or “I know I was wrong” or “I made a big mistake” are words that show one has accepted responsibility for their part in the conflict. Thismellows the heart of the offended party and makes room for reconciliation. Accepting responsibility means the absence of blame shifting.

Consider restitution:Asking the question “what can I do to make things right?” is part of a genuine apology. The dictionary defines restitution as “giving something as an equivalent for what has been lost, damaged, etc.” Restitution shows the offender is willing to do something to try and make up for the pain they caused.

For restitution to be effective, it is necessary to do something the offended party will appreciate. For example,when a statement is made in error that brings public shame to someone, a public retraction would amount to restitution.Or when a spouse cheats, in addition to communicating regret and accepting responsibility forhaving an affair, restitution would include ending the affair.

Sincere repentance: Promising not to repeat a wrong is one way of showing genuine repentance and genuine intention to change.Tangible steps to making changes shows genuine commitment behind an apology. An alcoholic husband or wife who continually apologises for drunkenness and shows no effort to stopby, for instance, going for rehabilitation is as good as having not apologised. Genuine repentance can be quite costly but it is worth it.

Request forforgiveness: In addition to communicating regret, accepting responsibility, making restitution and showing genuine repentance, asking for forgiveness makes an apology complete. When the offender asks for forgiveness he or she shows the need to be forgiven of the offence. Many find it hard to utter these words but they are the magic words that indicate sincerity. Asking for forgiveness demonstrates that the offender wants the relationship to be restored.

A sample of a complete apology would therefore look like this: “I am sorry for the wrong I did to you. I disrespected you. You didn’t deserve that. It was very wrong of me, and I ask that you forgive me.”

Psalm 103:8-10 says: “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger,  and abounding in mercy. He will not always strive with us, nor will he keep his anger forever. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities.”

Considering we are human and prone to fall by hurting the one we are in a relationship with, let us extend grace and pardon them. The bottom line is, if God can forgive us of our wrongdoing and not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquity, who are we not to accept an apology from the ones who have wronged us? On the flip side, who do you owe an apology today?