The road to forgiveness: How to get someone to give you the apology you seek
Here's some advice from therapists, religious leaders, as well as people who suffered terrible wrongs on ways to find repentance and resolution.
Despite US President-elect Joseph Biden Jr’s plea to let our “better angels prevail” and the comedian Dave Chappelle’s Saturday Night Live monologue where he told Americans, “We have to forgive each other,” reconciliation and forgiveness can be a long, difficult process.
I learned that the hard way when the person who hurt me most wouldn’t apologise or express any remorse.
I’d always thought I was the type who could forgive anyone anything. But when the mentor I’d trusted for 15 years lied to me and refused to explain or atone, I was inconsolable.
Then, I took a cross-country trip to try to heal our rift, hoping to learn more about forgiveness along the way by writing a book about it.
As research, I interviewed therapists, experts from different religions, and people who had suffered terrible wrongs who taught me there are many ways to find repentance and resolution.
Here are some of the strategies they used, which may also help you get the apology you seek.
EXPLORE WHAT REALLY HAPPENED AND WHY
“Before reacting, calmly ask questions and gather more information about what occurred, which can be illuminating,” said Patricia Gross, a Manhattan therapist.
“Oftentimes, a rupture is caused by miscommunication or misunderstandings that can be clarified and fixed.”
EXPRESS YOUR HURT IN A LETTER
Deborah Copaken, a Brooklyn journalist, wrote to the man who had raped her 30 years before, reminding him of what he did and how hard it’s been for her to overcome.
He responded immediately by confessing he didn’t remember it. He’d blacked out that night from excessive drinking and had entered Alcoholics Anonymous.
As he kept saying he was sorry, “30 years of pain and grief fell out of me,” she wrote.
DECIDE IF SOMETHING ELSE CAN COMPENSATE
Emanuel Mandel, an 84-year-old Washington therapist and Holocaust survivor, never accepted the German government’s apology on behalf of the Nazis who wiped out his grandparents, cousins, uncles and aunts.
Yet, he admitted that US$1,000 (S$1,330) payments in war reparations his father negotiated through the Conference helped his parents re-establish themselves in America and have better lives.
This is why compensatory damages are awarded in legal cases, though money isn’t the only way to make amends.
SUGGEST ALTERNATIVE REPARATIONS
Admitting that you feel wounded or insulted is a better strategy than using combative rhetoric accusing the other person of inflicting pain, according to Dr Vatsal Thakkar, a psychiatrist in Connecticut.
Bernard Mokam, who recently graduated from New York University, said that after the killing of George Floyd, a fellow Black man in Minneapolis, by a white police officer last May, a white classmate sent him US$30 over Venmo.
She may have meant to show compassion, but he was comfortable financially and was offended by what felt to him like a misguided gesture.
He returned her money, and recommended instead that she join a local Black Lives Matter protest, call local representatives to complain about police brutality and read work by anti-racist writers such as Colson Whitehead, Toni Morrison and Ta-Nehisi Coates.
SEE IF KIND ACTIONS CAN SUBSTITUTE FOR WORDS
Emillio Mesa, a San Francisco events planner, always harboured resentment that his mother had left him with his grandparents in the Dominican Republic for six years when he was a child.
Though he joined her in New York, she never really explained what happened or apologised for leaving him. He kept his distance.
Decades later, after he was beaten up in a robbery, he moved back into his mother’s Bronx house, where she took care of him for six months.
He decided to allow the love she showed him as an adult to make up for her early absence and lack of explanation, and they were able to get close again.
TAKE IT PUBLIC
Kenan Trebincevic, a Muslim Bosnian war survivor, was dismayed that the Serbian government never issued an official apology for its genocide against his people during the Balkan War.
Chronicling the atrocities he witnessed, he wrote the apology he felt he deserved and published it. A few Serbs his age contacted him to express their remorse.
Becoming a spokesman for a younger generation of Bosnians was how he met his Sarajevan wife. By confronting people from his past, he found his future.
EXPRESS YOUR FORGIVENESS
Gary Weinstein, a Michigan jeweller, forgave the drunken driver who killed his wife and children, reading a statement aloud in court.
When Weinstein arranged to meet him in prison, the driver expressed his deep remorse. That helped Weinstein move on. He became a spokesman for forgiveness, which was empowering.
ENLIST A FORGIVENESS SURROGATE
Rabbi Joseph Krakoff asked an estranged father to recite this prayer with his daughter on his deathbed: “You are forgiven. I forgive you. Please forgive me. I love you”.
The father told his child, “I still don’t think I did anything wrong, but I’ll say the prayer because the rabbi says it’s a better way to leave the world.”
Even the begrudging words helped her. Religious leaders or therapists may be able to intervene on your behalf.
ASK ADVICE FROM MUTUAL FRIENDS
In the case of my estrangement from my mentor, he was upset that I had let mutual acquaintances know what had happened, because it threatened his reputation.
When he eventually wanted to get together to talk about it, I asked “Are you doing this to make me shut up?” He said, “Yes! Shut up already!” half-jokingly – or maybe not.
I didn’t necessarily care what his motives were – I wanted him to acknowledge he’d been wrong, which he did. Seeing the negative reactions of others in the community spurred him to wake up and reach out to discuss it.
TRY TO VIEW THE OFFENSE AS A MYSTERY
Drawing on the Hindu outlook he grew up with, Thakkar suggested searching for a larger view of your falling out.
He shared a metaphor: “A commuter was enraged when a woman in an SUV stopped abruptly to get something in the back seat, almost causing an accident. He didn’t know the driver’s infant was choking.
"Similarly, there is something you don’t know about your mentor’s life that will shed light on his insensitive actions.”
It turned out that something tragic had happened to my mentor’s family. “I’m so sorry, I had no idea,” I wound up telling him, apologising profusely myself.
By Susan Shapiro © The New York Times
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.