Tuesday 17 April 2012


First, an apology! I have not written a blog since January 1st! Happy New Year, I said, and was promptly laid low by two almost contiguous bouts of facial cellulitis, from the effects of which I am only now recovering. It's a true excuse, but I could have done better, I expect, if I had really tried....

I had an apology from a colleague this morning, to say that he had forgotten to send off a copyediting invoice I sent him two weeks ago for work done on a project - and the payment would therefore be a fortnight late. How should one deal with this, I wondered? Shout and scream and metaphorically thump the table, with frowning 'smiley's and hard words. It was inconvenient to have to wait, and will require some shifting about of money and waiting for things I had planned to buy, but not the end of the world as there is money in the savings account (for once). But more importantly, I also work as a project manager, and (I hate to admit this, but as no one reads this blog, I'm convinced, I'm only admitting it to the ether) I have inadvertently done the same to other copyeditors on at least two occasions in the past. How can I be angry with my project manager colleague for an offence which I hoped to be forgiven by others? I hadn't even been big enough to admit I'd forgotten, when I made the same mistake - and I admired him for that. So I told him that I had forgotten to send of someone's invoice in the past by mistake, and not to worry about it. And I felt good about that, because forgiveness is good for the soul.

Apologies are also good - and just as difficult. I think it's important to admit our mistakes and ask others to forgive us, and I know I am not very good at doing this - I hate to feel I've made a mistake and hate to admit to it even more. But the older I get, and the more of life I see and experience, the more conscious I am that we are all flawed, and we all need to accept this and be gentle with each other. Judgemental attitudes don't achieve anything, because they set a barrier between people - I am righteous on this side, you are bad and wicked on the other. You hear a lot of this, and it is intended to make the judger feel better, by seeing the judged as inferior. But in the long run it's worth remembering we are judged by the measure we use ourselves for others - in this world as well as the next. When we apologise and admit our fault, leaving room for the other person to forgive us and/or make allowance for us, we make a bridge between us, recognising our common frailty.

There have been some spectacular apologies, where the government of one country has specifically apologised, or at least expressed regret, for the transgressions of its counterpart long ago. Murderers have expressed contrition to the relatives of their victims, terrorists have changed their ways and become political leaders, trying to build bridges across the gulf created by their own previous actions. And in some cases the victims have done their part and forgiven the transgressors. We have seen some examples of this in Northern Ireland in the wake of the Troubles. In Rwanda and in South Africa there have been government initiatives to encourage such actions. No one can be left unmoved where this contrition and forgiveness occurs sincerely and openly, and it always leaves fresh hope for peace and reconciliation. More than that, both transgressor and forgiver are better for it psychologically. There is clear evidence that an unforgiving attitude can make someone ill - and you have only to compare the faces of those who implacably pursued the murderer of a loved one, or the attacker who left the victim maimed, and who would not rest until that person was brought to justice, with someone who forgave the wrongdoer right at the start, to know that forgiveness brings peace and psychological health to the forgiver as well as benefiting the person forgiven.

Cultural differences may also affect this scenario, of course. In some cultures apologies are not expected or valued, and if you make them you are considered weak or inadequate. There is a stigma attached to apologising. That is sometimes true in Western culture, too - particularly in a work situation. But I still believe that apologies are of value, if only to break the mould. In a cultural context where the outright apology is not understood, there are still ways to indicate a need to put things right, to build the bridges rather than setting up further barriers. The more bridges there are, and the fewer barriers, the better. Bridges bring peace, but barriers bring war and revolution.

That isn't to say that either apologies or forgiveness are easy. Where wrong has been done, it is all too easy to let the anger and guilt continue. There are valid arguments for saying that people who are forgiven too easily do not learn lessons, and will probably continue to be careless of whom they injure. In that sense there is a risk to forgiveness, and it makes the forgiver vulnerable in some ways, too - vulnerable to hurt, the refusal of the transgressor to recognise the wrong, or to accept the forgiveness offered. Apologies are risky too - you lay yourself open to the anger - quite possibly justified anger - of the person you have wronged. But in apologising, and in forgiving, there is often a sense of laying down a burden that we have been carrying without realising it. I recommend it to you.