It is often easier to ask for help than to ask for forgiveness. However, forgiving someone usually brings a sense of satisfaction and even pleasure and being forgiven even greater reward.
How does one go about asking forgiveness? First, expect to be forgiven. Expectation is often the greatest factor in whether or not something happens.
Second, ask simply. Say, for example, “I hope you will have the grace to forgive me,” or even more simply, “I’m sorry.”
Not everyone is ready to forgive, and that is a risk one takes in asking. However, few can resist a direct request. And when they do forgive, they feel good about themselves, and so do you. When this happens, don’t forget to say “thank you.”
My sister, Danielle, says that admitting one’s own humanity (i.e. the frailties that go with being human and the mistakes that one makes because of being human) can go a long way toward defusing hostile situations. Her approach is to say, “Well, that was less than perfect. Some days I just seem determined to prove how human I can be. I guess I get to cancel the angel wings and halo for another week.”
She says that generally people laugh or give her a hug. Even the sternest will relent and say something like “Well, as long as the problem gets fixed…”
Laughing at oneself in the act of asking forgiveness, Danielle, a psychiatric nurse, claims, allows the other person to step away from his or her perfectionism or excessively high standards for a moment and to relax and enjoy being human.
Here is another important part of forgiveness. Give credit to the other person for being “big” enough to forgive.
As a young soldier stationed at Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas, I found my check missing one pay day, and, it turned out, it would be missing for some time to come because of problems with the financial paperwork associated with my belonging to the Army while stationed at an Air Force base.
Military regulations allowed only partial cash payment in such cases, which put me in a financial bind and would be a hardship for some time to come. I was certain that the error was the fault of the finance sergeant in charge of processing pay information. SSG West (not his real name) and I exchanged some acrimonious words, but that, of course, did nothing to improve my financial situation. A few days later, I learned that the fault was not his and that everything that he had told me was accurate. I returned to his office, told him what I had learned, and apologized for my earlier words. He quickly forgave me and redoubled his efforts to help me. A few months later – and much sooner than anyone had expected – my finances were back on track.
Soon after that, SSG West and I ended up working together, as I was assigned to casual status in the combined personnel and finance office while action was being taken on my application for a direct commission to officer ranks. SSG West became my strongest advocate, and he was as pleased for me when the commission was awarded as he would have been for himself.
There is a tradition in the Army that the first person to salute a newly commissioned officer gets a silver dollar from the officer. After the commissioning ceremony, SSG West jumped up to salute me, but the First Sergeant (Top) of my unit beat him to it. As I handed the silver dollar to Top, I saw disappointment on the face of SSG West. Later that day, I stopped by the finance office and handed a silver dollar to my advocate. You would have thought I had given him a million silver coins, not just one.
My apology in this case led to much more than forgiveness. It led to a special relationship between an unlikely pair of friends: a black guy from the deep South and a white girl from New England, and, later, between a non-commissioned officer and a commissioned officer – a friendship that began with an apology and solidified by a silver coin.
Excerpted and adapted from a collection of vignettes I published, copyright 2003.