Sophia's Peace Work

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Art of Apology

A wise friend once told me that when in doubt, apologize. No matter where the fault is, apologize --- sincerely and without qualification (no, "I'm sorry for what I did, but ..."). Even if you believe you aren't to blame (most likely you are wrong about that anyway) just apologize. It will open all the doors and overcome all resistance. Apology, in short, if done right, is disarming.

Certainly it can be a challenge to eat crow in this way, especially when all your emotions are screaming, "but I didn't do anything wrong!" It doesn't matter, my friend said, just apologize. I've tried to follow my friends guidance as much as I could and haven't regretted it though I've been known to choke on an apology once or twice myself.

I try not to paint people with too broad a brush but if there were ever a people who collectively could benefit from learning this art of apology it is Iraqis. For some reason they equate it with losing face or honor. They can't admit to their mistakes - they must throw the blame on someone else or make even the most outlandish excuses to avoid admitting that they were wrong. Perhaps lies are easier to say than apologies.

A friend in Sulaimani told me that though this is generally true, people here will actually apologize for silly things that they don't need to ... particularly to a superior. Perhaps it is a way of ingratiating yourself with the boss, for example. But apologies to a colleague of equal or "lesser standing" are unthinkable for some reason.

I have seen this play out again and again - and it is really quite tragic. You wonder at the pain it must have caused and all the problems that might have been avoided if people had simply learned to apologize to each other. I've seen co-workers here brought to a fever-pitch of anger, instilling long-term vendettas against one another over things that a simple apology might have resolved in moments. But it was always pride or some false sense of righteousness that gets in their way.

In the face of this I wonder what I can do to try and help. Provide some positive role model? Play some kind of peacekeeper/peacemaker? Once, when an Iraqi friend here hurt me, he never apologized, so I hurt him back. So who am I to play the peacemaker? I'm still trying to learn the art of apology myself.


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