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A better way to say “sorry.”

A better way to say “sorry.”

Ever hear a politician or public figure give a “non-apology apology?” They usually start out with “If any was offended….” Ever have the experience of attempting to reconcile with a person who’s hurt you only to walk away as if it was really your fault? Maybe the way we’ve been taught to say “sorry” misses the mark.

JoEllen, a blogger, educator, and mom, says the way we teach children to apologize often leave both the offended and offender feeling as if the conflict has been put aside but not really resolved. These lessons distort our understanding of forgiveness and reconciliation.

She offers a better way to apologize, with an emphasis on the person apologizing taking responsibility, being specific about what they are apologizing about, and given the person who was hurt the power and the choice to forgive or not.

She describes how she taught her students…and what a difference it made in their lives.

After this talk, I had some volunteers come to the front to role-play some apologies. We paused at various points and reflected on how to improve the apology: was the body language sincere? Did the apologizer really capture how the other person felt? Sometimes, I would whisper instructions to one student to roll his eyes, look away, mumble, or phrase something a certain way. The students treated it like a game, trying to spot what was amiss in the apology. This was very effective, because when the time eventually came for real apologies, everyone knew we were all going by the same rules, and the expectation was set for a sincere, thorough apology.

When I first tried out this “new” old-fashioned apology with my students, I didn’t expect any long-lasting results. I just wanted to see what would happen. But what happened in the weeks and months following simply blew me away. It started with our weekly Friday afternoon class meetings. We already had a good thing going here, with the kids “throwing” kudos to each other with compliments and appreciations: “I’d like to give a kudo to John for asking me to play with him at recess,” or “I’d like to give a kudo to Kylie for working really hard on her writing this week!” It was cute, and students enjoyed both giving and receiving the kudos.

One week, I decided to review our apology lesson, and then asked the students if anyone needed to “clean-up” something that happened this week with an apology to someone in the classroom. When I asked, I meant for any volunteers to take their business outside. My first volunteer, however, started apologizing to her friend right there on the spot in front of the whole class. Before I could stop her, she began blubbering through her apology, reciting each line like she’d planned this for days. Maybe she had. I could see the relief on her face when her friend accepted her apology. The girls smiled shyly and I knew we were onto something good. Before I knew it, students were raising their hands left and right, eager to make amends with people they had offended. Some of the “offended” people hadn’t even realized that they had ever been wronged, but happily forgave anyway….

The students nodded their heads and we resumed our lesson. No one missed a beat the rest of the day. The next time it happened, weeks later, the offending student was quick to apologize, articulating how her inattention affected herself and her classmates, and was quick to change. It was no longer a matter of embarrassment or shame, but simply acknowledging 1) what went wrong, 2) who was affected, 3) how to change, and 4) asking forgiveness. I couldn’t believe how much more focused all of my students were once we began these apologies for not paying attention! It was astoundingly more effective than giving them individual warnings. I think it had something to do with feeling beholden to the entire class. Either way, win for me, and win for them.

One day, my principal came to inform me that a couple of my students had gotten in a fight with some other kids during lunch. I started to let out a discouraged sigh when she continued to share with me how impressed she was with my students. Impressed…?

Read the rest here.

Posted by Andrew Gerns

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Joseph W. Trigg

It would be great if churches taught about reconciliation as something we can actually do.

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