“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” — Mohandas Gandhi, 20th Century Indian political leader
Recently, I ordered a hi-tech stationary bike for my wife for Christmas. Boy is she going to be surprised when she receives this gift that she has been hinting at (just a little), for the past couple of months.
I order early enough to be able to schedule the delivery to take place this past Monday while she’s at work. A week ahead of the delivery, I confirm the date and time window with the delivery agent: 10 am to 5:30 pm.
Monday comes and I’m waiting for the call from the delivery driver telling me that he’s a half-hour away.
I’m waiting… waiting…
At 2:30 pm, I call the delivery service, explain the time frame. “You can’t come any later than 5:30 or my wife will be home, and… no surprise.”
He checks with the driver. “Going to be around 5:30.”
I contact the next door neighbors, “Can I have the bike delivered here?”
“No problem,” the neighbor says.
I give the new instructions to the delivery service.
It’s now after six and no show. I call the agent again. “Now, it’s going to be 7:30 pm… or so.”
Waiting… waiting…. Finally, at 8:15, the supervisor calls and tells me that there was an accident with one of the delivery drivers, and the second driver took him to the emergency room for treatment. The supervisor apologizes profusely for the delay.
I tell him that clearly, it’s much more important to treat the injured. He reschedules the bike delivery for the next day.
“I appreciate that,” I say, adding, “but make sure you don’t come any earlier than 10 am or later than 5:30 pm.”
“Not a problem.”
The next day, I’m finishing a workout at the gym when my wife calls at 9:15 am. “Did you order something? Some guys are here with a bike.”
So much for my Christmas surprise.
As I arrive home, she smiles, leaves for work as I explain the delivery instructions to the driver.
In complete shock, he says, “I am soooooo sorry. It’s my fault. I misread the instructions.”
He comes inside, assembles the bike. Throughout the entire process, he says, “I feel bad for ruining the surprise for your wife. It’s my responsibility. What can I do to make it right?” he asks.
I ask him to hang around until I can get the wireless connection started and set-up the service connection.
Forty-minutes later, he’s walking out the door and apologizes yet again: “It’s my fault. Is there anything else I can do to make it up to you?”
“Look,” I told him, “everybody makes mistakes. While I’m disappointed about surprising my wife, there are far worse things happening in the world. You delivered the bike and everything’s working. My wife will just enjoy an early Christmas, that’s all!”
Apologizing for a mistake is an important part of being responsible. However, it’s just as important to forgive.
It may not be easy to admit to a co-worker, family member or friend that we’ve stepped out of line or done something wrong. The element of shame can be a strong deterrent, and some interpret it as a sign of weakness. But if we can see the other side; if we can accept the hurt we may have caused – however unconsciously – we can start over by being more mindful of what we say or do in the future.
“But what if there is no apology?” someone asked. “What then?”
“You forgive, anyway,” I said.
The German political theorist, Hannah Arendt said, “Forgiveness is the key to action and freedom.”
In October 2005, several Amish families lost their daughters at the hands of a disturbed shooter.
“As we were standing next to the body of this 13-year-old girl,” the Reverend Robert Schenck told CNN, “the grandfather was tutoring the young boys; he was making a point, ‘We must not think evil of this man.’ It was one of the most touching things I have seen in 25 years of Christian ministry.”
Not long after burying their own family members, many of the Amish went to comfort the family of the gunman.
Apology and forgiveness are two sides of the same ethical coin. It levels the playing field of our conscience. It allows us to let go of the destructive cynicism of self-righteousness and frees us to strive to live up to the best that we can be.