The Magical Power of Apology

I am not a magician but I’ve watched them perform on several occasions.

We all marvel at magicians’ abilities but have no clue as to how they do their things.

One word that also holds a magical power is “sorry.” Think back to the last time someone offended you and genuinely apologized for his action. How did you feel as he did so?

No doubt, the word “sorry” serves as a soothing balm for wounded hearts.

Below is the photograph of a top military officer that broke the traffic law in Lagos last week. Unfortunately for him, he was caught by the civilian governor of the state – Babatunde Fashola.

The picture shows the military man saluting and vehemently apologizing to the governor, “I am sorry, very, very sorry.”

At that point of saying “sorry,” he virtually “disarmed” the governor with his words; not his gun. In case you missed the story, you can read it here.

Just imagine what the result would have been if the Colonel had proved unrepentant and questioned why a “bloody civilian” governor would stand on his way. The result would have been quite disastrous.

We all know the power of apology. Here, I am talking about genuine apology that comes from the heart – the kind of “sorry” that you utter from deep realization of your fault and your readiness to accept full responsibility for it.

I am not talking about the “automatic sorry” that many people say when they don’t mean it. An example is when you’re so much in haste on a crowded street and you keep bumping on people as you race off. Of course, your weapon of passage would be “sorry, please,” “oh, sorry about that,” or “excuse me please.”

No, you won’t be genuinely sorry in that instance. Instead, your mind would be cursing: “Leave the way, you morons!”

Neither am I speaking about the so called “boss apology” that many business executives are familiar with. If you’ve ever had cause to fire someone, or get fired yourself, you will surely know “boss apology.” The line is as simple as, “Mr X, I’m deeply sorry to inform you that your services will no longer be required in this organization…”

No, it’s not that kind of sorry. The boss uttering those words may not be sorry for anything.

Genuine “sorry” brings about a number of good things. It soothes nerves; it shows to the other person that you so much respect him or her; it builds good relationships among people; it gives you free mind as your conscience becomes clear; and it enables you to correct a wrong and avoid a repetition.

Genuine apology plays a major role in every aspect of human lives and it can be identified in a variety of relationships – man and woman; citizens and government officials; politicians and their opponents; governments and other governments; workers and employers; consumers and manufacturers; teachers and students… The list is without limit.

Take a look at the following news headlines:

Those stories underscore the importance we all place on the word “sorry.” When someone apologizes for his wrongs, he’s deemed to have repented and should be forgiven. After all, we also pray to God for forgiveness as we forgive those who trespass against us.

With a genuine apology properly rendered, we often conclude that “to err is human, to forgive is divine.”

But how come some people find it hard to apologize to, say, their spouses, partners, parents, children, subordinates etc?

The other day, Barack Obama was hotly criticized by some people for apologizing to Afghanistan. As the president of the world’s most powerful country, they least expected him to have stooped so low to apologize to anybody.

How wrong they were!

Most of the people who fail to apologize do so because of pride. They are usually under the wrong belief that saying “sorry” may demean them.

That’s sheer imagination – a mere assumption.

The reality is that saying sorry makes you more powerful. It makes people respect you the more. That’s why it’s said that the “real powerful man is the one who uses his power sparingly.”

Obama apologizing to Afghanistan or anybody for that matter does not diminish his power as the president of America.

A man apologizing to his woman does not lose his title of “the head of the family.”

A boss apologizing to his subordinate does not become powerless in the office.

I will not feign ignorance of the fact that an apology may open you to demands for some restitution – monetary or otherwise. Yes, it is quite possible for your apology to be immediately taken as an admission of guilt, following which you could be required to pay some compensation.

In my insurance profession, for instance, you are not expected to immediately admit fault in the event of say, car accident. That is to prevent you from opening yourself to unnecessary demands.

But let’s reason together here. If I have hurt someone and it is necessary to compensate him, why should I shy away from doing that? Paying compensation for wrongs should be a part of accepting full responsibility as a decent person.

And don’t forget, compensation doesn’t have to be in financial terms.

Imagine how better our world would be if we could all accept responsibility for our actions.

Imagine how happy everyone would be if offending parties could be less arrogant and accept their faults.

Imagine how peaceful the world would be if we all genuinely say “sorry” for the wrongs we commit.

As you go this week, think about those “sorrys” you have been refusing to say. Make peace with people, and determine in your heart that you will henceforth accept responsibilities for your actions. Resolve to live less in the shadow of “what would people take me for” if I say “sorry.”

The world will surely get better if you and I genuinely apologize and make amends where necessary.

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