“I’m Sorry” – The Steps of an Apology

Sometimes I feel like I am in the apology business. Helping kids make apologies to their parents (or the other way around), husbands to wives (it seems to go this way most often), organizations to individuals (e.g. when a church leadership apologizes for insensitivity to a neighbour who complains about a building project or a late night rock group) – this is some of what my work is.

“I’m sorry if I did something wrong” is not an apology. It is non-specific and the ‘if’ avoids personal responsibility. It is more of an inquiry than anything.

“I know that I hurt you by (e.g.) coming home late for dinner. It certainly was not my intent.” This is not an apology either – it is an acknowledgment. And it is a helpful acknowledgment to offer.

“The reason I was driving so fast was because you were late again — that’s why I’m so frustrated” is an explanation intended to spread out the responsibility and pain. Not an apology.

Here is an apology: “(1) I am sorry. (2) It is my fault. (3) Please forgive me.”

Imagine that the problem is about a woman’s insensitivity to her husband at a family get-together. Here is the apology: “I am sorry I left you out of the conversation with my family on Saturday. I know this isolates you and you feel lonely. And I know we talked about how I could include you. It is my fault. Will you forgive me for this?”

Every apology has (1) an honest expression of regret, (2) authentic accepting of responsibility and (3) a request for forgiveness. Without these three steps, what we think of as an apology is something else.

“So, A Guy Walks Into a Bar…” (Sex and Laughter)

There are lots of reasons to laugh. First, laughter is fun – and fun is reason enough for all of us to laugh lots. Secondly, because non-laughers are usually boring and uptight people. The kind of people we don’t want to laugh with anyways. Thirdly, because laughter cleans out the psycho-social pipes when things are bad.

Now you need to know that there are two kinds of laughter: “laughter, the funny kind” (LFK) and “laughter, the mean kind” (LMK). LFK brings people closer and LMK breaks, butchers and belittles that which is important.

I am talking about LFK or “laughter, the funny kind.”

Cleaning out the pipes: You saw it in “The Bucket List” when Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson laughed until they cried. Well, they needed to laugh. They were both dying and they were leaving those who wanted them to live. (Go rent the film. You will laugh and cry and get your pipes cleaned all at once.)

The laughing contagion: Do you remember in high school when you couldn’t stop laughing and when your teacher threatened you with “whatever” (you were laughing too hard to remember) and that she began snickering too? Laughter is contagious and that is a good thing. You avoided a detention or writing lines or visiting the principal. The laughter contagion brings people together when they are opposites.

“No laughing matter”: You have heard that truism; that the severity of the situation requires solemnity or reverence or some other form of sadness. A best-selling Norman Cousins book and a popular Robin Williams film, “Patch Adams,” teaches us that laughter might even heal people. Still, even if you die, laughter is the best way to go. It’s called “dying well.” It’s a funny way to go.

Getting unstuck: Unsolvable problems are usually better solved through laughter than “serious, urgent, important” strategies (“SUI” sounds like a pig call doesn’t it?). If your life has 20% problems and you invest 80% of your resources in strategies like problem solving, worrying about things, and “daring to discipline,” well, you are likely to add to the unsolvability of it all. Makes you want to laugh. Or cry.

“So what’s this all got to do with sex?” you asked.

Good question. Of course if you have looked at yourself naked recently, laughing is way better than crying! And if you think about orgasms, erections, the “missionary” position, all that wetness, well, it is pretty funny isn’t it?

And of course, all orgasms don’t call for the “Hallelujah Chorus!” (That’s a joke.)

“So, a guy walks into a bar…”

70 is My New 100

Like many other rabid Canadian hockey fans, I watched the Canada — United States final in men’s junior hockey where the US won 6 to 5 in overtime. The Canadians played as brilliantly as the US team and, as needs to happen in competitive sport, one team won. The US team put in more hockey pucks in the net than did the Canadians.

The defeat on the Canadian players’ faces made it clear that they could not appreciate the excellence of their game and the entertainment that they brought to millions of people. Their lack of ability to celebrate their success and even to smile, let alone be delighted in their silver medals, robbed them as it did us.

They couldn’t be grateful. They couldn’t be appreciative of the quality of their opponents. They couldn’t see further than their own losses. They wouldn’t celebrate the other’s victory. They couldn’t enjoy the excellence of being in the company of excellence. They couldn’t reflect on the reality that they have the privilege of doing what the rest of Canada only dreams of.

Being satisfied with only winning destroys much of life and everyday relationships. I see it in myself and I see it in my clients. Couples tell me about it. Teenagers complain about it.

Good is never good enough.

I tell my clients [and almost anyone else who will listen] that “70 is my new 100.” I also tell them that perfectionism does not help them do the job better, it only ensures that they will enjoy the success less.

Celebrating more, being grateful more, enjoying more, laughing more – these are the kind of “mores” that lead to success.

The Myth of the Perfect Parent

Christianity Today magazine has an informed and persuasive article on perfection and parenting. Find it at — http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/january/12.22.html

The subtitle reads, “why the best parenting techniques don’t produce Christian children.”

Needless to say, I loved the article and wished that I had written it! Leslie Leyland Fields is witty and wise, digging deeply into Biblical theology.

This is important stuff for the perfectionists and obsessives among us. It also has a very funny photo of an angelic redhead trying to be perfect!

“I WANT” — Entitlement Monsters and the Rolling Stones (Jan Bryant)

Recently, on a BC Ferry, I came around a corner to hear a tiny mite of three-year-old fury, screaming “I WANT __________” to her parents, who were doing their best to ignore both the child and the stares of the other passengers.

I can’t tell you what she wanted. When my children were young I told them: “If you start a sentence with the words “I want”, I stop listening.” I guess I still do.

I have seen far too many children get whatever they want from their parents by whining or screaming “I want” loudly and often enough until the parent gives in. These children are “entitlement monsters” who have been rewarded for this behaviour by parents who can’t or won’t say no. Unfortunately, their wants become larger and more expensive the older they get. We all know adults who still operate on this entitlement mentality and they make poor employees, bosses, friends, spouses and parents.

In my home, “I want ….” got no response. Ever.

So where do the Rolling Stones fit into this?

When my children were out in the world, in a store or park or rec. centre and said “I want …” I immediately and enthusiastically sang:

“You can’t always get what you want,

You can’t always get what you want.

You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes,

You just might find, you get what you need.”

Embarrassing? Not for me, but my children grew tired of the attention it drew.

My children had their needs met: love, my interest and encouragement, food, shelter, clothing, education, play, music, a sense of security and well being. If they needed new shoes, I let them know how much money we had to spend on the shoes and helped them discern the best shoe available for them.

They might “want” a $200 status shoe but they soon learned how to make the extra money if it was that important to them, and it rarely was. They also learned that if a whining or pleading “I want …” was heard, we went straight home and would try again another day.

Uttering “I want …” was never rewarded and so it disappeared from their language.

What else did they learn?

♦ The distinction between a want and a need – essential to achieving self-control and living a debt-free and satisfied life.Delayed gratification – a useful skill when you have to work to achieve something or when pressured to be sexually active.
♦ Not to determine their self-worth on the acquisition of material goods.
♦ Compassion and perspective – they weren’t the centre of the universe. The world and everyone in it did not exist to satisfy their wants.
♦ Sometimes you can get what you want but you usually have to work for it.
♦ To ask politely and co-operate. Your child will have better success in grade 1 by asking “does anyone have a blue crayon I can use?” than by shouting “I want a blue crayon.

Do try this at home.

Our guest blogger is Jan Bryant. She is a Registered Clinical Counsellor (RCC) in private practice. You can reach her at jfbryant@shaw.ca and her website at www.janbryant.ca Just don’t shout “I want.”

More Than a “Sounding Board”

On her intake form “Janice” (not her real name) requested some understanding about her underlying anxiety and her periodic depressions. She felt “at odds with herself” and immobilized with her boyfriend. She asked if I would act as her “sounding board” as she explored her family of origin and emotional history.

Hmm. I’ve never been much good at being mute and inanimate (except sometimes in family dinners) and I am seldom “bored” (I know that is not what she meant) when people tell me the intricacies of their lives. And I certainly don’t want to repeat back what she is saying and already knows.

Therapy is sometimes like a highly caffeinated life – provocative, frequently funny, intensely social, unexpected, almost always tearful, complex, sometimes argumentative. I think that my job as a therapist is to increase tension – rather than “saving,” more like stressing – so that my client-friend can be challenged into change, provoked into a less stuck life.

More “morphogenesis” than “homeostasis.”

Some weeks later, Janice commented – “This is not what I thought counselling was going to be like. I never know what is going to happen when I come here… and I am glad I don’t.”

More than a sounding board.

Simply Giving

Our family have been active supporters of Food for the Hungry, Canada for some years.

We are also involved with FH in doing community development work in a small town in the Mbale region of Uganda. All of our family members have visited and we have sponsored a number of children from the town of Bufukhula.

This Christmas you might wish to support this work. It is easy to do. Go to their web site (http://www.fhcanada.org/gift-guide/Africa-Mbale-Uganda) and contribute what you can. A small gift from you goes a long way.

Merry Christmas to you all!