Health Care Dialogue
Kim S. Hwang, PsyD
Dear Dr. Hwang:
“Do you believe that apologies are a sign of weakness or strength?”
I believe that sincere apologies are a sign of strength and come from a very genuine core place of values that contribute to positive healing. Vengeance versus forgiveness is destructive and erodes relationships. Even the happiest person can self-destruct if conflict doesn’t move towards resolve.
Relationships are complicated and are plunged into all kinds of circumstances that challenge its bond. The power of an apology can go a long way. An apology can serve as a starting point to begin a healing conversation, which may open up a pathway of healing.
Too often a concession is viewed in western society as a weakness, with little value placed on harmony and peaceful virtue. When we acknowledge that we may have hurt someone or participated in some level of regret, I believe it shows both integrity and maturity. It is an expression of sorrow and it almost immediately restores the relationship to a point of safety and homeostasis.
Apologizing doesn’t always mean that one person is more “wrong” than the other person. More often than not, fast pace communication creates a chasm and therefore a misunderstanding unfolds. No party is anymore responsible than the other. The truth is, we live and work within systems that do not allow or have compassion for human errors or mistakes. Therefore, we quickly and unknowingly spritz our frustration into the direction of the closest bystander. I’m sorry doesn’t mean giving in, getting yours or going weak. I’m sorry simply means, “Let’s try again.” It’s a lovely and sincere gesture that communicates a heighted level of attentiveness the second time around.
Recently, I’m humbled to admit that I experienced a similar situation. I engaged in a disagreement with a colleague that was quite tense. At the time, we were both pretty married to our, “rightness.” Later, I received a correspondence from her in which she eloquently communicated her ability to see the situation from my perspective and apologized. Immediately, I felt humbled, open and my defenses shattered. I examined the situation, context and arrived at some substantial realizations.
First, our interaction was much too short. Second, we should have taken more time to talk with each other face to face and that we were pushing each other to make an on the spot decision without enough conversation. We were also discussing something in a high traffic situation. I also realized that I needed to slow my thinking down, table the conversation for a more optimal time, so that I could have time to reflect on the content she was presenting.
More often than not, communication feels rushed, but quite honestly, rushing our communication ends up taking more time in the long run. I was grateful that she apologized, not because I thought she was “wrong” but because I felt that I didn’t handle it well either. It was one way to begin starting some kind of positive interaction. I appreciated the generous gesture. It provided an invitation and an emotionally safe starting place necessary, so that a reflective process could unfold. I was able to take time to understand the content better, deconstruct the event and later figure out how to hopefully do better the next time around. I am always sorry when I don’t do as well as I’m capable of with others.