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Posted by Philip on 27 October 2015, 4:51 pm in , , , , , , , ,

Beyond apology and forgiveness

If there's one thing you can seldom plan for, it's conflict. Unless you're purposely pushing for an emotional rupture, or you're entering a meltdown situation with prior warning, conflict usually blind-sides you.

It's one of those, "you think one thing's going to happen and something else does" moments, about which Kathryn Schulz muses

All the hindsight in the world doesn't help. It's been said or done, can't be unsaid or be undone because, damnit, linear time travel hasn't been invented yet. Parallel time travel — well that's another post.

So, conflict-causing incident said or done or both, the only way is forward. The usual destinations are: first stop, apology; second stop forgiveness.


"That's ok."

Or not.

I have found it useful recently to look beyond the apology/forgiveness model. Having been in situations where I've needed to do both and, since you don't do both in one situation, required another party to reciprocate with the other response, I've noticed another dynamic that needs to be present in conflict resolution:

Humility and generosity, followed by trust.

Humility accompanies apology. Humility is "the quality of having a modest or low view of one's importance." It's not a great quality to adopt on a long-term basis but it helps to realise when you're wrong (temporarily) or you've made a mistake.

Generosity is the foundation of forgiveness. "The quality of being kind and showing a readiness to give more of something, larger or more plentiful than is usual or necessary" is vital in accepting an apology. It's about being aware of the inevitable failings of people and valuing mutual relationship above individual, temporary hurt.

Finally, trust seals the deal. Trust is the "firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone" and "acceptance of the truth of a statement without evidence or investigation." It's also " the state of being responsible for someone." Trust requires a belief in the other's integrity; mutual, unconditional acceptance; and taking responsibility — in this case, for oneself.

Looking beyond apology and forgiveness in conflict asks formore than a gesture (apology) and acceptance (forgiveness). It asks for both parties to be vulnerable (trust).

Vulnerable enough to admit one's mistake or wrongness. Vulnerable enough to kindly offer a gift beyond necessary — that of the awareness of human frailty and of the value relationships. Vulnerable enough to believe each other, accept each other and, for each party, to exercise self-responsibility.

What if a party can't be humble or generous enough to apologise or forgive? Well, this model works when conflict cannot be resolved, too. 

The challenge then is to be generous, humble, trusting and vulnerable enough to forget.

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