Recently, our family was having a conversation on forgiveness, earning an apology, and accepting an apology. I was making the case that these are related but not synonyms. It opened a discussion about what each is and how they are related. In many ways, the first two are internal to the respective individuals and the latter is internal to the relationship.
Forgiveness means different things to different people. But in general, it involves intentionally releasing resentment and anger. It is an internally driven emotion, motivation, and practice for the person harmed in a scenario. It has very little to do with the person, people, or situation that played a role in causing the negative emotions.
Forgiveness is about finding peace and reconciliation within oneself. Forgiveness is the process of recognizing, understanding, and maybe even empathizing with the wrongdoings of another while releasing any negative feelings we may have towards them. It is the notion of looking beyond the hurt and understanding that a mistake was made and that one can move on.
Regarding my family, friends, and those I love, forgiveness often occurs irrespective of whether any apology was extended. It’s my goal to respond with empathy, kindness, and logic rather than to react with emotion and haste. I do not want anything to harm my internal perspective and love for the person. I want to be 100% responsible for how I respond and not cloud my feelings with false beliefs about someone’s actions. To do otherwise is to believe the person’s actions were intentionally malicious.
Earning an apology starts with the recognition of actions or wrongdoings that led to negative emotions, irrespective of the intent. It is taking responsibility for the role one played in creating the situation and feelings, irrespective of the goals and intent. It’s an internal recognition and then a promise to improve oneself.
When I am the cause of wrongdoings, I immediately want to head to the expression of an apology. It’s a conscious effort to understand what led me to this point. I feel I owe it to the other person to dissect the cause and my failures in it before even asking for them to accept an apology. Doing otherwise devalues the apology I am delivering.
Here is where accepting an apology comes in.
Accepting an apology is a slightly different concept. It is the process of receiving an apology from an individual and making the conscious decision to accept that apology; however, it does not necessarily mean that said wrongdoings are forgiven. It is the responsibility of the individual who has been wronged to decide whether or not to accept the apology.
In essence, forgiveness is a process of self-reflection, understanding, and letting go of negative feelings from wrongdoing. Earning an apology is about self-reflection, understanding, and accepting responsibility for the wrongdoings to then be able to improve and hopefully not repeat it.
Accepting an apology is the process of receiving an apology from another person and deciding if it is enough to overcome the wrongdoing. It is recognizing the effort made by the other party and taking this into account. It is a decision to invest in the relationship.
Regardless of how one decides to move forward, it is important to understand that forgiveness, earning an apology, and acceptance of an apology are three different yet equally important processes.