Apology and Forgiveness Move Life Forward

by Janet M. Powers

October 16 is Conflict Resolution Day. The calendar is full of such national days and special weeks which give non-profit organizations a chance to emphasize their commitments and call them to public attention. But how should the individual citizen respond to Conflict Resolution Day?

All of us are involved in conflicts, some of them minor, others more disturbing. Not all of them require the services of a mediator or a lawyer. What they do require is the willingness to forgive and the willingness to apologize. Many mediations result in apologies, which lead to reconnected relationships, so we know how essential apologies can be.

It takes a strong person to apologize. Bishop Desmond Tutu has said, “A readiness to make concessions is a sign of strength, not weakness.” But it takes two to tango, even with an apology! The other side of apology is forgiveness. Life can go forward, moving beyond hurt and resentment, when one party is willing to apologize and the other to forgive.

I had the unhappy experience of marrying into a family in which my mother-in-law refused to speak to her husband’s sister. For years we celebrated holidays and birthdays separately, although my husband and I were determined to respect both sides of the family. By the time we managed to bring them together for a holiday dinner, not long before his aunt’s death, the original issue no longer seemed important.

I’ve wondered often about how many years of joyous family get-togethers were lost because the two sides wouldn’t speak to each other and resolve their differences. If one side had initiated conversation, if the other hadn’t been so stubborn, if one had apologized, if the other had forgiven – things might have been very different.

I guess I’m suggesting that each of us might celebrate Conflict Resolution Day by working on one conflict that is bothersome, no matter how small. It takes courage to resolve conflicts but not the superhuman kind. By focusing on the hurtfulness of small conflicts and resolving to do something about it, we take a forward step. Results may not be immediate but taking steps to shed an emotional load will relieve anxiety and stress on both sides.

Apologies would help to heal larger issues as well. The Episcopal Church recently apologized to the African American community for slavery. Will other churches follow suit? A huge apology is due the Native American community whose land and way of life were forever lost as a result of European settler greed. We may not see that apology in the near future, although it’s worthy of consideration.

However, we can do something about the personal conflicts that nag at our sense of well being. Taking steps toward apologizing and forgiving would be a splendid way to celebrate Conflict Resolution Day!

For more information regarding mediation or conflict resolution training, please call Mediation Services of Adams County at 334-7312 or e-mail mediationac@yahoo.com

MSAC speakers are available to speak to you and/or your group or to offer customized conflict resolution workshops. Se habla Espanol.