Monday, November 18, 2013

Forgiveness Is The Sweetest Revenge.

You ought to be sorry when bad things happen, right?

In 8 years of marriage my husband has never uttered the words I’m sorry. You might find this odd however, after speaking with other women I realize that my husband is not the only man who does this.

My wife heard me say I love you a thousand times, but she never once heard me say sorry.

Bruce Willis

The challenge in our relationship comes in our philosophical and cultural difference about the two words “I’m sorry”.

Sorry Is Not Enough-2

Me: I believe that you should accept responsibility for your actions and try to make it right by taking a first step and apologizing.

Him: Sorry doesn’t fix anything. The action has already been committed so sorry will not help.

As you can imagine, this becomes problematic when raising our children. At 35 years of age I reflect daily on my Life and there are SO many things I wish I could apologize for; had I known better.

So of course, as a mother I believe it is my duty to teach my children how to apologize But, our ongoing battle and discussions have made me dig a little deeper into just what apologizing means to him and if maybe, MAYBE, he might have a point. But I beg to differ.

In fact, as the world becomes a global village, apologies are growing increasingly important on both national and international levels. Communications, the media, and travel have drawn the world ever closer together. Ultimately we all share the same air, oceans, and world economy. We are all upwind, downstream, over the mountains, or through the woods from one another.

We can’t help but be concerned with Russia’s failing economy, Eastern Block toxic waste, Middle Eastern conflicts, and the rain forest, whether it be for reasons of peace, fuel, or just plain oxygen.

In this international community, apologies will be vital to peaceful resolution of conflicts. Within the last several years alone Nelson Mandela apologized for atrocities committed by the African National Congress in fighting against apartheid; Exxon for the Valdez spill; Pope John Paul II “for abuses committed by Christian colonizers against Indian peoples”; former Japanese Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa for Japanese aggression during World War II; and Russian President Boris Yeltsin apologized for the massacre of 15,000 Polish army officers by Soviet forces during World War II. And that’s only the start of it.

Probably no language function has been in the news more lately than the function of apologizing. Week after week, the famous as well as the infamous stand before the public and apologize or, in any case, receive demands for apologies. Hardly a week goes by without some apology or other making the news – often the front pages.

It seems like it should be such a simple thing, teaching your child or student to say “I’m sorry” when an apology is called for. But far beyond simply repeating a conditioned response, truly understanding the nature of an apology and being able to deliver one sincerely requires a level of social competence that many adults find difficult.

As parents we want to teach our children empathy for others. It’s part of teaching them that they have an impact on their world and the people around them. Teaching our kids to say “sorry” encompasses all sorts of good things, like making friends and sharing, so it makes sense that “sorry” is one of our first verbal lessons. In some ways we intend this word as a hinge, linking the behavior of one child to the feelings of another, and it makes sense to put it this way because we want those connections to be made in our children’s minds.

However, “sorry,” as a word, often turns up empty, while hurt feelings (or body parts) persist. This is why it becomes important to emphasize to children that the word isn’t just a word, it is also an action. We, as parents, need to watch for the “sorry” that becomes nothing more than a behavioral escape hatch, leaving the conflict largely unresolved.

Some argue that a full apology requires many more elements than just those two words, such as acceptance of responsibility, an expression of genuine remorse, an offer to make amends, and an excuse-free explanation.

After a fight and before forgiveness often comes an apology. But saying “I’m sorry” comes more easily for some people than it does for others. There is even a new study that suggests that specific personality traits offer clues about whether a person is likely to offer a mea culpa.

To me, the biggest stumbling block to apologizing is our belief that apologizing is a sign of weakness and an admission of guilt. We have the misguided notion we are better off ignoring or denying our offenses and hope that no one notices.

On the other hand, sometimes apologies come too easily and too frequently, as when we apologize for things that are clearly not our fault, not in our control, or otherwise unworthy of apology. Examples include apologizing for being hurt by someone else’s offense, apologizing for being over-sensitive, apologizing when someone else bumps into you, and apologizing for apologizing.

It seems “I’m sorry” is infamous for its inadequacy. It often seems flippant, insincere, or incomplete, as in “I’m sorry you feel that way” or “I’m sorry, but…”. Wayward public figures are notorious for inadequate apologies, especially those that involve a failure to own up to wrongdoing.

Academic research has found that accusations of wrongdoing are often made in hindsight based on what psychologists call the “curse of knowledge.” The curse of knowledge exists when the outcomes of a decision are used to evaluate the quality of a decision in hindsight. In other words, once the outcome is known for a decision made under conditions of uncertainty, everyone knows whether the decision was good or bad. The old saying, “hindsight is 20/20” relates to this phenomenon.

So will two words fix it?

Sadly, it’s a common mistake.

We as parents and caregivers often fall into the trap of looking for a formula that saves us from having to think all the time. We’re busy. We’re stressed. Analyzing every single conflict situation that comes up with our children is sometimes difficult, sometimes downright impossible, given the other demands on our time and the frequency of the conflicts. We’re hanging out for a short cut, a magic solution.

Siblings or peers fighting? Someone must be at fault. Therefore someone needs to apologize. If we can work out who’s to blame and make that sorry happen, it’s all sorted.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Sorry, as a word, means very little to kids. It’s a thing that’s required, like “please” and “thank you,” but kids say it largely to appease adults, and the word has very little in the way of meaning or impact. It’s a word without identity; you can’t point to “sorry,” and it’s not a cat or a sandwich or a ball at the beach. Even as a feeling it is hard to identify.

It’s not happy or sad or hungry or tired, it’s just a thing you say when you’ve done something wrong. If you accidentally spill some cereal on the table or leave the car door open, you have to say you’re sorry. If you eat your sister’s cookie, you’re sorry. And, if you pick up a Lincoln Log and hit your brother over the head with it because at that moment you absolutely, positively hate him, still, you’re sorry. So what does it really mean? What is its purpose?

I’ve been told sorry doesn’t fix the hurt. It doesn’t take away the pain; doesn’t mend the broken pieces like super glue is supposed to it just smooths it over and brushes away the shards and sticks an ugly band-aid on top and expects everything to be ok.

I’m sorry doesn’t mean anything anymore to anyone it just something you say to make the other feel like you really are but you’re not and if you are it doesn’t matter because sometimes the wound just goes too deep stitches couldn’t even repair the damage.

Even if there was a doctor who worked on hearts like a mechanic works on an engine there’s no way to fix a broken metaphorical heart it has no real shape no real place of being.

That’s because words are not magical. Words are not erasers; they cannot make bad actions go away. Only good actions can start to make bad actions feel okay.

We all know adults who constantly apologize for their bad behavior, then tomorrow or next week do exactly the same thing again. Where do you think that starts?

So, I’ve come to learn that the real point of an apology is forgiveness. And, forgiveness should never be based on the apology. In fact, if you think about it there really are few instances when the one who has been hurt will be fully satisfied by the apologetic response. The hurt remains and the insult apparent. To our little girl, she fully expects retribution for anything her brother has done to her. Raising little boys who fight it out on the “battlefield”, girls are a bit more of a challenge as they seek a “courtroom” so to speak.

They are looking for judgment and enforcement of the verdict. However, God has told us to forgive. In fact, God goes so far as to say that if we choose to be unforgiving then we cannot experience God’s forgiveness. What we seek from God is fully contingent on how we choose to treat others.

When we seek from others what is outside the boundaries of our personal expectation than we close the door to that opportunity of blessing in our life. Essentially, “If it’s not good enough for them, then it is not for you!”

With that in mind, forgiveness is absolutely imperative for those who seek a relationship with God.

The most common cause of failure in an apology–or an apology altogether avoided–is the offender’s pride. It’s a fear of shame. To apologize, you have to acknowledge that you made a mistake. You have to admit that you failed to live up to values like sensitivity, thoughtfulness, faithfulness, fairness, and honesty. This is an admission that our own self-concept, our story about ourself, is flawed. To honestly admit what you did and show regret may stir a profound experience of shame, a public exposure of weakness. Such an admission is especially difficult to bear when there was some degree of intention behind the wrongdoing.

It can be difficult to admit being wrong (we are well-equipped with psychological defenses and self-serving biases to protect us from facing the possibility that we messed up), and it can be scary to make oneself vulnerable to the possibility of rejection, since an apology, no matter how heartfelt, does not always elicit forgiveness.

That is why a genuine apology offered and accepted is one of the most profound interactions of civilized people. It has the power to restore damaged relationships, be they on a small-scale, between two people, such as intimates, or on a grand scale, between groups of people, even nations.

If done correctly an apology can heal humiliation and generate forgiveness.

Yet, even though it’s such a powerful social skill, we give precious little thought to teaching our children how to apologize. Most of us never learned very well ourselves.

We tend to view apologies as a sign of weak character. But in fact, they require great strength. And we better learn how to get them right, because it’s increasingly hard to live in the global village without them.

Live and Learn. We All Do.

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Filed under: motherhood, Spirituality Tagged: African National Congress,, Boris Yeltsin, Bruce Willis, Elton John, History, Marcus Prouse, Morihiro Hosokawa, Nelson Mandela, Sorry seems to be the hardest word, Twentieth Century, World War II

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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Greatest Of All Illusions Is The Illusion Of Control.

As a mother, I’ve always intended to put my children’s well-being in God’s hands. But the truth is, from pregnancy on I’ve felt responsible for feeding them, protecting them, and loving them. I’ve been under the illusion of control when it comes to my family.

As a parent, I often convince myself that somehow I can control outcomes for my children. Even as someone committed to treating children with respect and honoring their inner voice and authority, sometimes I still hold onto this illusion of control.


But, the illusion of control robs our children of their own experiences in life. It robs them of the fundamental right to feel what they feel without judgment from us. It can force them to conform to our expectations to get what they need because they fear that we will judge their feelings.

Rather than accept where they’re at, we try to change them and the outcomes.

This illusion has its roots in childhood.

As children, most of us had the experience of the adults around us controlling (or at least trying to control) many aspects of our lives. We were told that when we grew up, we could make the rules. But as long as we were children we had to live by others’ rules.

We grew up believing that there was a time when we would be in charge and in control. By example, we learned to try and control the people around us. Sometimes this need to control was internalized and we became perfectionist, trying to control ourselves.

Control is an illusion. There, I said it. Accept it and move on. You are not in total control of anything at all. You can have some control of some things, but total control is not achievable. Take these examples – you are not in total control of your own mind. If you were, then you would not think of a pink elephant when I tell you not to think of a pink elephant, but I will bet you money that you thought of one.

You are not in total control of the way you feel. If you were, then you could just stop being anxious and stop worrying about everything right now and never be anxious again. And, you are not in total control of your behaviors. If you were, then you could stop blinking your eyes while being awake for the next 5 hours.

So, we are not in total control of our own feelings, thoughts, and behaviors – therefore there is no way we will be in control of anyone else’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors either.

Control is one of humankind’s greatest illusions. Let’s face it—even with all the information available and expansive educational preparation—unexpected events often interfere with our plans and our best efforts to control an outcome or an event (and even ourselves!).

You physically are a group of over sixty-trillion living cells that do what they do by themselves. Every second, there are trillions of things happening inside our bodies that keep us from dropping dead, and we have no control over it.

Blood is being pumped, cells are being created, hormones distributed; a trillion things out of our control have to happen just for us to digest food, and we are not even aware that it is happening right now.

People are aware of the fact that they are not in control of the inner workings of their bodies, but most people are not aware of the fact that they do not control what is going on outside of them either.

Most people believe they are in control, and the exact opposite is the truth.

The dance of life: God/life leads and we follow in the dance of life. In other words, the physical environment does something, and your inner environment (mind) reacts to it.

We are under the absolute control of our environments.

You get hungry you eat, need money you work, the phone rings you answer it, get cold you put on a coat, get hot you take it off, and if you have an itch, you scratch it.

Then there is larger environmental control; where and when you are born, if you are rich or poor, educated, talented, healthy, looks, sex and race, etc.

The easiest way to check if we are in control or not is to just look for someone that does not die like everyone else. No one beats death, not even the faith healers, and no one wants to die. The fact that everyone dies and in less than a hundred and fifty years tells you with no doubt that we are not in control.

Control is a deep, deep need.

Perhaps the deepest need people have is for a sense of control. When we feel out of control, we experience a powerful and uncomfortable tension between the need for control and the evidence of inadequate control.

Note that the need is for ‘a sense of control’, not just for ‘control’. This need around how we feel about control is much deeper and has a wider scope than just seeking power and the control it brings.

If you’ve ever seen somebody put on a lucky jersey so that their favorite team will win, you have watched the illusion of control in action. This cognitive bias is the tendency for human beings to overestimate the amount of influence they have over outcomes that they actually cannot affect.

Psychologist Ellen Langer first discovered and named this bias in the 1970s. In one of her experiments, subjects were given lottery tickets; either at random or allowed to choose their own. The subjects then had the chance to trade in their tickets for other tickets that had a higher chance of paying out. The subjects who had chosen their own ticket were less likely to part with it than those who had a random ticket. Though the lottery was random, the subjects acted as if they felt their choice of ticket had some bearing on the outcome—demonstrating the illusion of control.

Because control is such a core part of our fallen human nature, so is the false belief that there is an A action that will lead to the B result we want, if we can just figure out the right formula.

Missing from our belief system is the conviction that God will give us the grace to deal with the pain of living in a fallen world. Thinking we are on our own, we become obsessed with getting rid of the reality of a fallen world.

We are likely to spend much of our day unknowingly focused on trying to fix things in the world that are broken or that have the potential to cause pain. But God has never commanded us to repair the damage of the Fall. He simply asks us to trust him one day at a time until one day He makes things right.

We think control guarantees us the life we want. We try to control because we’re trying to guarantee the outcomes we think we need. Obviously, the benefits to having control are very attractive. We think if we can achieve our Outcome Focused Goals, we could create heaven on earth and we would be perfectly happy.

Unfortunately, trying to create heaven on earth is more likely to create hell on earth for others and ourselves. Ironically, our efforts to try to control things can often cause us to be more out of control.

The illusion of control can lead us to make bad decisions or take irrational risks. It can cause us to engage in magical thinking—like the wearer of the lucky jersey above—or even believe in the paranormal.

When things don’t go as planned, you have a choice – look outside or look inside. Looking outside is about control and looking inside is about lack of control.

When you look outside, what you’re saying is the universe didn’t behave per the plan, and you’re going to teach it a lesson. You’re going to tighten the screws until it does what you want; you’re going to add personal energy (probably all your energy) to lock things down; you’re going to control what must be controlled so the universe follows your plan.

The look outside approach can work, for a while. You can put your fingers and toes in all the holes; you can make sure everyone does their job; and you can be the master scheduler for the universe, but only for a while because the universe has limitless energy and you don’t.

And while your control-the-world strategy looks like it’s working, it’s not – not even in the short term. The universe is playing you – it’s sucking your energy while you tread water. The universe isn’t stupid – it knows you can’t last.

At its core, the universe likes to teach; and when you fight it head-to-head, it wants to teach you about opportunity cost. While you spend all your energy wresting it to a draw, it prevents you from moving forward. It wants you to learn you have finite energy and to be thoughtful about how you spend it.

I don’t know about you but, in the midst of my Life’s chaotic moments this article reminds me that the entire purpose of all that we do as parents is to “…[train] yourself out of the job.”

Live and Learn. We All Do.

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