Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Extracted Apologies

Apologies, Apologies

Why should I be concerned about the increasing tendency among people to extract apologies from others? Because it wasn't always as widespread. True, some people would demand an apology and it was given and accepted, in blatantly obvious, public offenses, but for the most part, people were so busy at their lives that they had little time to worry about the offenses of others.

Entire afternoons, or, sometimes evenings, are taken up with the procedure of extracting apologies. Meetings are arranged, and files collected, so that everyone can "put their differences out on the table." Yet, never have I seen this be fruitful way of solving problems. In a few months, it must be done again. These meetings often cause more hurt feelings, as things are dredged up and said, requiring further apologies!

These days, it seems that apologies are extracted for another reason: - to take away the uneasiness a person feels about their life. Not everyone lives as they should,and therefore they can get a "feeling" that they aren't accepted or approved of. People natually stiffen at the sight of them, recoil from them, or avoid inviting them to their social events. This results in the offender -- whether he is rejected naturally because of careless dress, immodesty, being unbathed, smoking dope in front of people, wearing embarrassingly immodest clothing, a bad example, or just being sarcastic and sneering at someone's lifestyle---feeling unwelcome.

What is to be done about this, she thinks? These people aren't making me feel good. I feel terrible because they aren't embracing me, and accepting my beliefs. Should I sue, or demand an apology? A person might feel bad about their lifestyle, and can't get that feeling to go away. She builds up bitterness as she thinks of the people that haven't really "approved" of her. It seems the only thing preventing her feeling good about herself, are those who disapprove of her. Bitterness begins to build up, until she demands an apology. Demanding apologies is very rude, and seldom does it win friends and influence people.

It might never occur to the offended, that they might change their attitudes.

Once obtained, the apology just doesn't seem to be "right." This is because the person didn't need the apology. They needed to get rid of root problems that will make them continue to demand apologies in order to feel better. One such problem is "quiet wrath." Looking at what they perceive of as past offenses, (including the failure of the offender to approve wholeheartedly and warmly of their lives), they begin to keep score of wrongs. Soon, the unforgiveness is welling up in their souls. They want the feeling to go away. If someone will apologize to them today, they'll feel better. I've known of a few individuals who extracted at least an apology a day from someone, in order to validate themselves.

Sometimes apologies are carefully monitored to see if the apologizer really means it. This can result in more offenses, as the offended person adds more offenses from the actual apology.

This is the era of the demanded apology. China demands an apology from America for crossing their sea or air space. Muslims demand an apology from Russia for saying that they will root out terrorists, "even in the loo." Brits demand an apology from France's leader for saying that the food in Britian was not worth eating. If you can think of any more national demanded, extracted apologies, please, send them to me.

What do these apologies accomplish? Momentarily they may satisfy the demander. Most of the time, apologies don't hold much weight. Eventually someone become offended again and cannot live without another apology. We used to joke that so-and-so was out to get his weekly apology. It was like fuel to him. If he wasn't at someone's house getting one, he was in his own home stewing about how someone looked at him wrong, and how he would extract an apology from them. His basic problem was not so much that others were offending him, but that he was harboring resentment and bitterness and wrath. His life was not right, and so he was using his accusations against others to distract attention from his own faults.

There are some people, who, just by their clear consciences and clean living, offend people. I've known people who have been in rooms where they have said absolutely nothing, and yet incited the furor of someone who knew they would not participate in their vice, or approve their actions. I'm saying this so that you'll realize that just because someone demands an apology, does not mean they are justified in getting one.

Apologies should be offered freely by those who want to give them. They are not ours, to have, unless someone freely extends them. Once forced out of a person, an apology does not do what it could do, had it been freely given, prompted by the other person's conscience. There are those in society today who would judge a person by how many times they've heard them apologize. I heard a preacher who was bitter toward his wife say, "She never apologizes." Whether or not she should, is not what I'm talking about here. Maybe she should, and maybe not, but no one has a right to judge us by the imagined apology quota of the year. Whether or not you've apologized for something, does not determine who valuable you are as a person.

I'd die of shame before I would ever demand an apology from someone. I'd rather overlook the fault.

As I said, apologies are alright, as long as freely given by the donor. They are not the same, once forced, accompanied by threats of various types (lawsuits, visits from church authorities, disassociation, etc.). Some people will apologize out of fear. Some will apologize just to keep the peace. Others will apologize because they recognize the immaturity of the one they are apologizing to. Some people apologize because they are truly the nobler person. Sometimes grown children, who want to reconcile with estranged parents, will apologize. This should be accepted graciously, as the father accepted the Prodigal son.

Apologies can actually cause more trouble than if a person was left alone. There is an old saying that we should "let sleeping dogs lie." Once you kick him, he will cause more trouble. Sometimes an apology is met with derision, rejected because it wasn't good enough, or argued with. I know, as a girl growing up in a family of 7, that we behaved as well as we could so that apologies would rarely occur. Once an apology was extended, the offended was likely to bring up a long list of past wrongs, accompanied by the accusation "You always," or "You never," pulling the apologizer deeper into an argument they couldn't get out of.

Let us look at demanded apologies in the Bible. If you are thinking of finding an example of a demanded apology, you might not find it. Apologies today are given for the satisfaction of the one who demanded it, not necessarily out of concern for the one who gave it. "Forgiveness for Offenses," the term used in the scriptures, is a lot different than the apology for an offense. Instead of demanding an apology, the offended person approaches the offender and says something like, "I was offended." If the offender wants to, he can say, "Will you forgive me?" which puts the burdon on the one offended. Ones the offended lets go of the grudge and says "Yes, I forgive you," he is free of the burden of the offense. Notice that it is the offended person who goes to the one whom they are upset with. They don't tell their woe to someone else first and get the other person all sympathetic and eventually enraged. They don't wait.

Forgiveness doesn't always mean the other person is right, it just means that you are free. Unforgiveness means that you can accumulate years of bitterness and wrath, which, no matter how many apologies you demand, will never go away. Forgetfulness and forgiveness go hand in hand. If a person offends again, the past should not be remembered, and a long list dredged up with past offenses. Now is now, and then was then. Though tempted, I try not to remind people of past failures in their lives, or past offenses. Forgiveness is the key factor in overcoming the fault of demanding apologies.

Studying this carefully, you can see that it is sometimes wrong to get offended. Overly sensitive people just constantly get offended by everything, and then want someone to ask forgiveness. It is just as wrong to be offended by every little thing, as it is to offend. Getting constantly offended stirs up trouble, and shows self-centeredness.

If you really want to mature properly, you have to learn that throughout life, there will be things that will offend you, and you can't confront everyone for it. It would make you quite busy getting your daily apology. Confronting everyone that offends you usually causes the other person to avoid you. You'll see people walk away when they see you coming, if you have this habit. Some people think they are obligated to get justice for every little thing that they perceive as offensive against them. Some people want to force you to accept their friends, their habits, and their disrespectual attitudes. If you don't like it, they say, then it is you who must change.

It would be better if these apology-bullies would be stood up to, and not allowed to control families and churches. They make everyone miserable instead of happy. They need to learn they don't get apologies just because they demand them. Not everything warrants an apology. Still, the one offering it should do so at his own free will, not from force.

If you'll learn to overlook a fault, you'll find that you don't have to collect offenses, confront people, and demand apologies. You can let the offenses slide over you like water off a duck's back, and get something more creative done in your life. I've noticed that people that want apologies are not absorbed in life. They are not minding their own business, making something, learning something, or helping someone. They are "social creatures," every looking to see how everyone pleases them.They are expecting to be served, expecting to be honored, expecting to be welcomed, and expecting to be praised. The ones who never seem to have problems with other people, are understanding, forgiving, serving and learning. They would be embarrassed to have any attention focused on them.

When we look at the final days of our Lord, we see he did not spend his time extracting apologies from people. He had a purpose, and "like Him, we should be," so we should have a purpose too. Extracting apologies from people shows an unhealthy absorption of the self. If someone offends you, try overlooking it rather than confronting them. You'll find your blood pressure will go down, and you'll be able to sleep at night.

I am not speaking here of necessary intervention, but I am addressing those who find power in demanding apologies. One man said it well: "Some demands for apologies come off as power-trippy." It is best to remember to yield your rights and forgive constantly, and not collect offenses, thus avoiding the tendency to confront and demand of others.

Seeing the results of the meetings where apologies are arranged, I personally think it would be better for you to let the meeting convene, but go shopping, instead. The order, the lights, the colors, and the cheerful atmosphere of the stores might do you much more good than the ugly re-hashing of faults that characterizes these meetings. I know one particular mother who has tired of them. She arranges her home with tea and biscuits (She's from Scotland) in peparation for the relatives, she excuses her self once the meeting has begun, and either goes outide to work in her garden, or gets in the car and drives to the mall. Until the meeting changes to a "praise and appreciation" session, that mother says she will not attend.

What if someone deeply wounds or offends you with words or actions? It is proper to tell them, in the proper humble spirit, that you were hurt, but it is up to them to apologize. Sometimes demanding an apology from them, especially if you are angry, will make the situation worse. I do believe it is okay to say you are hurt, but always be prepared for the other person to retaliate by listing the hurts he feels, in return. In confronting someone, we often open up more trouble. My husband has been located as a preacher in the same congregation for 13 years now. His parents before him were here for 27 years. We attribute that longevity partly to the fact that we quit confronting people for personal offenses. When we "hear" something, we ignore it, and when we are treated badly, we ignore that, too. Sometimes we use the opposite approach. When someone offends us, we ask them if we have offended them, and in someway caused them to mistreat us. We've found it builds better relationships.

What if you inadvertantly upset someone? If you realize your mistake, apologize quickly, and if someone else brings it to your attention, be easy to entreat, make things right immediately, and forget it. Keep in mind, that some people are looking for offenses, and want to pick on the least little thing. If you apologize quickly, they have no more fight in them.

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