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Posted by Philip on 26 January 2016, 11:00 am in , , ,

Diversity and the ability to give and accept an apology

Diversity is diverse, infinitely diverse. As I wrote recently, "Self-awareness is more useful than having some form of "textbook knowledge" of other people. Because there are no rules of thumb for engaging respectfully and meaningfully with people if you want to acknowledge the true nature of diversity."

Part of this approach to diversity requires the willingness to be wrong and the humility to apologise. To heal the mistake, the generosity of the wronged party to forgive, is also necessary.

But, as psychologist Gretchen Schmelzer points out:

"Sorry is something that is learned. It takes time and practice. And it is best learned (although painfully) as a feeling and not as an idea--and we learn that feeling by feeling hurt and being apologized to. If you never say you are sorry to your children, how do you imagine they will learn to say it to you or to someone else? How will they understand the complicated give and take of what feels broken and how it gets repaired?"

Reading this made me think about people who are marginalised, colonised, discriminated against. One of the hallmarks of civil rights movements is that people get very angry, and rightfully so, about how they have been treated.

Along with the anger goes an unwillingness to accept an apology when things go wrong — when people say or do the wrong thing. There's an expectation that others "should know better". And often there's a corresponding belief that once emancipated, one is always right and need not apologise.

Like a child whose parent has never apologised, so have minorities spent generations of misunderstanding, neglect, abuse and violence — and no one has ever said, I'm sorry.

Schmelzer again:

“'I’m sorry' doesn’t fix the problem, but it is an invitation to the hurt party to stay in the game, to keep playing. It is a humble request to try again. Sorry doesn’t say that what was hurt is all better, sorry says that the relationship is big enough to hold the hurt."

 And that is what meaningful attention to diversity is about: creating relationships that are big and strong enough to hold hurt, and patiently practicing the give and take of sorry.

"'I’m sorry' is learned from both sides: from feeling hurt and being apologized to as well as being the one who needs to say 'I’m sorry'. Both sides need to be learned and practiced in order to fully learn the dance steps necessary for working through difficulty in relationships."

So when it comes to diversity in relationships, the challenge is to practice the dance of sorry. The humility to apologise and the generosity to accept it. Then, when the hurt stops and if the relationship is big enough, comes the time to forgive and make amends. 

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