Apologizing is agonizing work. I know because I do it a lot.
My wife Lisa is an amazing person. She has taught me how to apologize. (No, this is not a wife joke.) I’m serious! When I first started needing to apologize to Lisa, she made it clear that she wanted me to actually feel sorry for what I did, which meant that I had to be aware of what I actually did, then make amends and promise to not do it again. Easy: own it; admit it; change it.
It seems that half-apologies are becoming more popular. Just this last May Mark Driscoll gave a similar half-apology. Bad apologies abound. I used to be good at it. I’m still learning how to do good apologies.
Rick Warren, you might remember from a previous post, Rick Warren, Saddleback Church and Propaganda Posters, that he half-apologized for using a Red Army poster to inspire his troops. However, since then Warren has committed other culturally insensitive offenses that have raised the valid concerns of the Asian-American evangelical community. Especially since he’s planting a Saddleback Church in Hong Kong. The Asian-American evangelical community has composed a letter for the evangelical church asking for cultural awareness and racial harmony. Here’s a portion:
“Over the past decade Christian evangelicalism has been the source of repeated and offensive racial stereotyping, and Asian Americans have been inordinately affected… Asians have been caricatured, mocked or otherwise treated as foreigners outside the typical accepted realm of white [evangelicals]. And the situation has not improved over time.”
Let me get personal. If I said something that hurt Lisa and I apologized with Warren’s exact words…
“If you were hurt, upset, offended or distressed by my insensitivity I am truly sorry. May God richly bless you.”
… here’s how Lisa would come back. Fasten your seatbelts:
- “If”: If???? I’ve made it very clear to you that I indeed am hurt, upset, offended and distressed. No if! You definitely hurt me and you know it. Why did you say “if” when you know for a fact you hurt me? I’ve made that clear to you, and if you had any sense you should realize it without me needing to tell you!
- “my insensitivity”: Yes, your insensitivity! I’ve told you before that you lack sensitivity in that area and you still hurt me there! You need sensitivity training when it comes to this issue and you still haven’t even picked up a book on the topic! You don’t understand me and you don’t seem to care. Hurry up and take personal responsibility to educate yourself on this before you hurt me again. This isn’t just going to go away unless you take accountability and change because I’m not going to put up with this callousness forever! You’re better than this.
- “I am truly sorry”: Are you? You seem to be suggesting that you’re only sorry because I was hurt by what you said. You don’t seem to be sorry for actually saying it. In fact, you seem to be suggesting that if it didn’t hurt me that it would be totally fine for you to say things like that. Are you implying that saying offensive things like that is okay as long as I don’t get hurt? Or are you implying that if I can take that, then you’ve got more in your arsenal? Are you sorry because I’m too sensitive and was hurt by it, or are you sorry because you said something that inflicted me with pain? You do realize if you treat me this way you’re going to treat other women this way, right?
- “May God richly bless you”: What??? Why are you bringing God into this now? Are you trying to turn this into a spiritual thing so I won’t be so hard on you? Are you trying to make me remember that you’re this highly respected man of God that can do no wrong? Are you trying to remind me that you’re God’s anointed that should not be touched? Or are you trying to deflect this difficult conversation away from your problem and turn this into a prayer meeting? Don’t try to squirm out from under this. This is too important! I know God richly blesses me. But right now I need you to. This is about you and your issues. Not me and God.
Ya! That’s how Lisa would challenge me on this apology. And I love her for it. She makes me want to be a better man. I learned a long time ago that the fastest way to peace and reconciliation is to own it, admit it; change it. It’s tough to admit weakness. But I also think when we do it that it is actually our greatest strength. In a culture that applies a great deal of pressure on its leaders to be perfect, admitting error can sometimes be perceived as fatal. I suggest there is a new kind of leadership emerging though, evident in our culture as well, that leaders with weaknesses are more human, accessible and even desirable.