Thought for the week:   Apologies

Last week I received an email from an old friend who had moved away quite awhile ago.   A visit here or there, more often we’ve stayed in touch by email, attempting to plan a trip together but never managing to go on one.  The last time I saw her did not go well.  We had planned to have lunch on a summer Sunday when she was visiting the east coast.  I was to pick her and her spouse up from the train for lunch.  She is a vegetarian, her spouse unable to tolerate anything seasoned.  I spent the day before planning the menu and preparing the food, excited as I put final touches together the morning of their visit.  Jumping into the car to retrieve them, I received a last minute text, “We just woke up.  We missed the train.  Will be in touch to let you know when we are coming”.  

I returned lunch to the fridge, frustrated but understanding these things sometimes happen.  A series of unfortunate events ensued.  The final delay, a full three hours.  When they arrived at my house they were no longer hungry for lunch.  The spouse, whom I was meeting for the first time, ate the dessert they had brought and fell asleep on the couch.  My friend ate her dessert while I put away the uneaten lunch.  There were cursory apologies for the rushed visit on the return ride to the train station.  I wrote the experience off as bizarre, tucked away the nugget for future reference if needed, and moved on.  

The email I received last week was a different apology then the one given the day of the visit.  It was a direct acknowledgement and regret, with explanations more than excuses.  A decent approach but understandably I was confused.  Why now?  The visit was over a year ago.  It would have been nice to hear this from her sooner.  We had been in touch since that “messy” day with our usual quick check-ins and updates.  The timing of this apology felt out of sync and didn’t make sense.  Does “better late then never” always apply?   

Clearly she had not rushed the apology to put this behind her quickly.  Taking this approach when owning up to an indiscretion (lying, cheating, stealing, breaking promises, rudeness, etc.) can backfire.  The person you’ve wronged may not have had time to process the event nor even think of forgiveness as an option.  They may misconstrue the quick apologies as an expectation on your part that you should, and will, be forgiven.

What did work well in the apology I received was the use of bold truth – no twisting of the facts to ease her guilt.  Adding lies on top of an indiscretion can be even more damaging.  Full acknowledgement of the role my friend played in that day’s events and how she would approach the situation in the future helped me see that she did value our relationship.  Think of Kyle Chandler’s character in the TV show “Friday Night Lights”.  He navigates through his foibles and then straight out says, “I apologize.  What I did was wrong”.   

The date of this apology email was the issue.  If it had come in a more timely fashion, it may have been for my sake.  It seemed this delay had more to do with accommodating her feelings then mine.  An apology, confession or acknowledgement is best given to make amends to the person who has been wronged, rather than clear the guilty conscience of the wrong doer.  In other words, it is best to put serious thought into who will be best served by rehashing old events or revealing the details of an indiscretion.  Rather then dump old guilt or radical confessions into the lap of the victim, perhaps hold onto them yourself, live with them and have them influence, and hopefully alter,  your moral compass going forward.   In this instance, “better late then never” may not be the most appropriate action.

I have not decided how to respond to this email.  It will mostly likely be a “thank you for the email….” response rather then a further inquiry to satisfy my curiosity:  “Has she been feeling guilty about this for over a year?!  Had she had forgotten about it, but a recent similar incident reminded her of what had happened?”   Those answers are for her to, hopefully, ponder and process.