By Skye Thomas
This statement has stopped many a war in my house. My oldest two children are two years apart in age and would fight about everything and nothing when they were little. One would anger the other and then deny that it ever happened. One would accidentally harm the other during play and not want to accept responsibility for the other’s anger. Seldom did a day pass by that one of them wasn’t screaming at the other for some horrible crime. It never failed when I would be brought in to mediate, they’d both claim they were innocent and the other was bad. How many times did one of them try to convince me that the other was lying and just trying to frame them for a crime they didn’t commit. What’s a parent to do?
I really believe very strongly in teaching my kids to be accountable for their actions and choices. I want them to have their eyes wide open and to know full well that when they make a bad choice, bad things are likely to happen. And when they make good choices, that good things are likely to happen. I’ve worked really hard to get them to grasp the concept that if you treat people badly, they won’t like you. Also, don’t mess with other people’s stuff without asking. Doesn’t matter if you are a beautiful child of God. Nobody will want to hang out with you. Simple facts of life, but I don’t see it being taught as much as I’d like. They say that we learn our social skills from our siblings and the neighborhood kids. We role model what our parents show us, but we practice it on our peers.
One of the things I hated most in my own childhood was being forced to apologize for things I didn’t do. I also hated being forced to apologize when I was simply defending my person or my property from a known attacker, mainly my younger sister and brother. I have also had too many adults in my life apologize for things they were not sorry for and then later they just repeat the same actions over and over again. When people say they’re sorry, I often think to myself, “Good then don’t do it again.” Changing the behavior is so much more important to me then just offering up the words, “I’m sorry.” I wanted to teach my children that you should never offer fake apologies and you should only apologize when you really mean it. However, I also wanted them to take responsibility for the environment of anger that they were helping to create. Somehow I had to find the perfect peace-making face-saving way to teach all of these concepts.
What I finally stumbled across was a twisted compromise. When you are feeling falsely accused of something and the other person won’t back down, then you simply say, “If I hurt you, then I’m sorry.” Then you bite your tongue, hard. Don’t say another word. Don’t snicker and don’t sneer. Just say it straight faced and let it go at that. You can tell yourself that since you did NOT hurt them, you are NOT sorry. They can tell themselves that you are sorry since they feel that you did hurt them. You don’t actually confess to any crimes. Besides what if on some level without knowing it, you did hurt them in some way? Wouldn’t you want to have said sorry for at least that tiny part? Soon peace began to show itself at my house. They would both smugly tell themselves that they had won the war of the day. I would get the much needed peace and tranquility that I needed.
It didn’t take long at all for me to see that this statement works just as well in the adult world too. Try it at work on a coworker some time and see how well they respond. Try it in your marriage. Try it with your extended family. It works on so many different levels. It can be said in light disagreements or in major all out family wars. It always works. On some level you mean it, except for the parts where you don’t. Don’t get into arguing over exactly what parts of the fight you are sorry for or taking blame for. Agree not to bicker over the details of the apology. You can expand it to say, “If during our disagreement, I have said or done anything that has hurt you, I am sorry. That was not my intention. I never wanted to hurt you.” You are not lying and you are offering an olive branch. You really did not want to hurt the other person. You simply wanted to make your point. This allows you to save face but still begin the healing process. Try it sometime.
I don’t think it works for really heinous things like rape, murdering someone’s loved one, arson, or all out military warfare. It only works for forgivable stuff. If you believe everything and everyone is forgivable, then you can try saying it, but I expect nobody will really buy into it. If Hitler said it to the Jewish peoples or Charles Manson said it to his victims’ families, I doubt seriously that it would have created any real peace. When something truly ugly happens, you do have to flat out admit full guilt and a full real apology is mandatory before real forgiveness and healing can even begin to occur.
This form of apology isn’t for that sort of thing. This is meant only for the hundreds of petty squabbles that we get drawn into and it’s a way to create a general atmosphere of peace and healing. This is for the people that you ultimately want to stay close to. This is an apology for those annoying people that you love with all your heart, but don’t want to fight with anymore.