I was at school one day sitting at my desk, I looked up and thought I saw something, I can’t remember now what the incident was (and it makes no difference to the story anyway). What I did was accuse a child of doing something she had not done. I also can’t remember how it came to my attention that I had accused her unfairly, but it did.
I waited until the children had settled in their next class and went to the teacher to beg a few minutes to speak with them. I asked the child in question to stand. I apologized to her firstly for falsely accusing her and, secondly for not giving her a chance to explain herself. If she had been given the time, she would have told me that I had made a mistake and falsely accused her. I told her I was wrong. I told her I regretted my behavior. I told her that, as I had shouted at her in front of the class, I should apologize to her in front of the same class. Then I asked her if she could forgive me.
“That’s okay Ms. Wilson”, she said.
“No it wasn’t okay,” I said, “But thank you for accepting my apology.”
I thanked the teacher; I thanked the class then took my leave. I thanked the class because they were a witness. They were a witness to my initial behavior and attitude, and they were a witness to my apology.
This was one of my finest teaching moments because I recognized that the incident presented an opportunity to teach a meaningful lesson. Sometimes as adults we feel that it is beneath us to apologise to children. Apologising to children is a great way to teach them how to apologise.
When I was in primary school, more than anything else, I remember my teachers. They believed in me when I did not believe in myself. They told me that they expected great things of me, and I remember l how much I loved to hear them say that. I remember that it really did seem possible to be great when they spoke of such things. The idea that someone was expecting greatness of me actually made me sit up a lot straighter. Just as my teacher spoke to me of a greatness I had within me, it is my hope that my apology will have infused this child with a kind of dignity which will encourage her to sit a little taller in her chair.
Teachers are powerful in terms of their potential influence. Every situation is an opportunity to grow, teach, and be taught. An apology offered with a sincere and contrite heart forms cornerstones for future honest conversations.
Who of us like to be falsely accused? Who of us have not wronged or been wronged by a worker, customer, child, supervisor or housekeeper? To apologize with sincerity sets the stage for more truthful conversation. It teaches by example. It allowed this particular child to experience my humanness. The act of apologizing acknowledged that she was worthy of the dignity of an apology from anyone who knowingly wrongs her.
Apologies do not diminish us in the eyes of others. Quite the reverse is true. Apologies make it more difficult for others to deny the same to us. We all know supervisors, spouses and colleagues who would rather die than apologize. Sometimes we are selective, believing that certain people deserve an apology while others do not. Conduct your own experiment and notice the difference ‘sincere apology’ makes in your dealings with people. Your workers will not be able to withhold respect from you, your supervisor’s attitude will have to change as well and even if it does not, you will have risen above the situation and will therefore feel very different.
When you determine that an apology is warranted, apologize without excuses, without justification or equivocation. We have the power to influence others hugely. We have the power to change our world.
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