Tags: dr | laura | owning | mistakes

When You Make a Mistake, 'Own It'

Sunday, 17 Aug 2008 07:42 AM

By Dr. Laura

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Ironically, I was planning for this column to be on “apologizing” when I became the center of that very subject.

I and a crew of four men participated in a sailboat race, which lasted 10 hours and covered 81 miles of open sea. The officials at the finish line who recorded the time of crossing incorrectly surmised that we failed to go around a light buoy that was part of the course.

They then gave us a designation that ultimately meant we hadn’t completed the race at all. Let’s just say I was severely miffed at this blatant incompetence.

Two heavy-hitter sailors on my boat remedied the situation, after frustration on both sides. (Happily, folks on two other boats that finished along with us spoke up on our behalf.)

I waited a few days and sent a most gracious letter to the fellow in charge, who originally made the decision to “do the wrong thing” -- that is, make an assessment without concrete proof.

In my letter, I made light of the situation, leaving the door seriously wide open for an apology. Instead, his response tried to slap me silly with little pieces of misinformation, to avoid taking any sincere responsibility for the fiasco.

OK, I’d had it.

In my follow-up letter, I wrote: “You keep reminding me you are the pro -- part of being such is having the character to own it when you’re wrong. You were wrong and you should simply have apologized. When I mess up, I own it and say, ‘I’m sorry.’ I don’t turn specious accusations against the person to resurrect my appearance.”

Short and simple, he wrote back, “If you feel you need an apology, I’m sorry for any distress I may have caused you.” If? May? Is he kidding?

This is what causes the disintegration of many a relationship. People often make mistakes or behave inappropriately. But, unlike that stupid movie of the 1970s, love should always mean saying that you’re sorry. And “sorry” should come without one single qualifying word, phrase, information, or argument.

Many people have a problem with apologizing because they still are stuck in their childhoods, when being wrong made them feel stupid, weak, or vulnerable.

Well, too bad. That’s the price of being human: being accountable for your actions and understanding their impact.

Relationships often break down when they don’t have to, simply because people refuse to take responsibility for their actions. Instead of simply “owning it,” one tries to expose the ill doings of the other, possibly even blaming the other for provoking you into whatever it is that you did that was wrong.

There’s an irony here, too: you don’t want to look bad to the other person -- so you argue them into the ground to justify or exonerate yourself. And in so doing, you become the ‘bad guy/gal’ in their minds.

If you can struggle against your self-defensiveness, and -- in spite of any real or imagined contributing factors -- just say, “My bad. I’m sorry. I was angry, but I should not have said/done what I did. I regret hurting you. How might I make it up to you?” The other person will hold you in higher esteem, they feel justified in their pain by your admission (and that reduces rage), and feel that you “give a damn.”

Apologizing properly is probably one of the most important aspects of a quality relationship because “stuff happens,” inadvertently and intentionally, and it is essential that repairs are made or the leaks could sink the relationship forever.

True repentance has several parts: first, Responsibility; second, true Remorse; third, Repair; and fourth, no Repeat. The next time you hurt somebody, even accidentally, please just own up to it -- admit you did it. You can explain yourself, but never to dismiss the hurt. Try to repair the damage, and think to yourself and express to them how it won’t be repeated.

Lingering angst, resentment, and dislike can easily be wiped away with a sincere “I am sorry.”

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