Thursday, November 27, 2008

"APOLOGIES are powerful. They resolve conflicts without violence, repair schisms between nations, allow governments to acknowledge the suffering of their citizens, and restore equilibrium to personal relationships." So wrote Deborah Tannen, a best-selling author and sociolinguist at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

The Bible confirms that a sincere apology is often an effective way to repair a damaged relationship. For example, in Jesus' parable of the prodigal son, when the son returned home and offered a heartfelt apology, the father was more than ready to receive him back into the household. (Luke 15:17-24) Yes, a person should never be too proud to swallow his pride, apologize, and seek forgiveness. Of course, for sincerely humble individuals, apologies are not so difficult to make.
The Power of an Apology

Abigail, a wise woman in ancient Israel, provides an example of the power of an apology, although her apology was for a wrong that her husband had committed. While dwelling in the wilderness, David, who later became king of Israel, together with his men protected the flock that belonged to Abigail's husband, Nabal. Yet, when David's young men asked for bread and water, Nabal sent them away with very insulting remarks. Provoked, David led about 400 men to go up against Nabal and his household. Upon learning of the situation, Abigail set out to meet David. When she saw him, she fell upon her face at his feet. Then she said: "Upon me myself, O my lord, be the error; and, please, let your slave girl speak in your ears, and listen to the words of your slave girl." Abigail then explained the situation and gave David a gift of food and drink. At that, he said: "Go up in peace to your house. See, I have listened to your voice that I may have consideration for your person."—1 Samuel 25:2-35.

Abigail's humble attitude along with her words of apology for her husband's rude behavior spared her household. David even thanked her for restraining him from entering into bloodguilt. Although it was not Abigail who had mistreated David and his men, she accepted the blame for her family and made peace with David.

Another example of someone who knew when to apologize is the apostle Paul. Once, he had to defend himself before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high court. Infuriated by Paul's honest words, the high priest Ananias ordered those standing by Paul to strike him on the mouth. At that, Paul said to him: "God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall. Do you at one and the same time sit to judge me in accord with the Law and, transgressing the Law, command me to be struck?" When onlookers accused Paul of reviling the high priest, the apostle immediately admitted his error, saying: "Brothers, I did not know he was high priest. For it is written, 'You must not speak injuriously of a ruler of your people.'"—Acts 23:1-5.

What can we learn from
Paul's example?
Apostle Paul

What Paul had said—that the one appointed as judge should not resort to violence—was valid. Still, he apologized for unknowingly speaking to the high priest in a manner that could be viewed as being disrespectful.* Paul's apology paved the way for the Sanhedrin to listen to what he had to say. Since Paul was aware of the controversy among the members of the court, he told them that he was being tried for his belief in the resurrection. Consequently, much dissension arose, with the Pharisees siding with Paul.—Acts 23:6-10.

What can we learn from these two Biblical examples? In both instances, honest expressions of regret opened the way for further communication. So words of apology can help us to make peace. Yes, admitting our mistakes and apologizing for damage done can open up opportunities for constructive discussions.
'But I Have Not Done Anything Wrong'

When we find out that someone was offended by what we said or did, we may feel that the person is being unreasonable or too sensitive. Yet, Jesus Christ advised his disciples: "If, then, you are bringing your gift to the altar and you there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar, and go away; first make your peace with your brother, and then, when you have come back, offer up your gift."—Matthew 5:23, 24.

For example, a brother may feel that you have sinned against him. In such a situation, Jesus says that you are to go and "make your peace with your brother," whether you feel you have done him wrong or not. According to the Greek text, the word Jesus here used 'denotes mutual concession after mutual hostility.' (Vine's Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words) Indeed, when two humans are at odds, there may be a measure of blame on both sides, since both are imperfect and prone to err. This usually calls for mutual concessions.

The issue is, not so much who is right and who is wrong, but who will take the initiative to make peace. When the apostle Paul noticed that the Christians in Corinth were taking fellow servants of God to secular courts over such personal differences as financial disagreements, he corrected them: "Why do you not rather let yourselves be wronged? Why do you not rather let yourselves be defrauded?" (1 Corinthians 6:7) Although Paul said this to discourage fellow Christians from airing their personal differences in secular courts, the principle is clear: Peace among fellow believers is more important than proving who is right and who is wrong. Keeping this principle in mind makes it easier to apologize for a wrong that someone thinks we have committed against him or her.
Sincerity Needed

Some people, though, overuse the words that are meant to express apology. For instance, in Japan, the word sumimasen, a typical expression used in apologizing, is heard thousands of times. It can even be used to express gratitude, implying an uneasy feeling of not being able to reciprocate the favor shown. Because of its versatility, some may feel that the word is used too often and may wonder if those saying it are really sincere. Forms of apology may seem to be overused in other cultures too.

In any language, it is important to be sincere when extending an apology. The wording and the tone of voice should convey the genuineness of sorrow. Jesus Christ taught his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount: "Just let your word Yes mean Yes, your No, No; for what is in excess of these is from the wicked one." (Matthew 5:37) If you apologize, mean it! To illustrate: A man in line at an airport check-in counter apologized when his luggage nudged the woman waiting next in line. A few minutes later, when the line moved, the suitcase again touched the woman. Once more, the man courteously apologized. When the same thing happened yet another time, the woman's traveling companion told him that if he really meant what he had said, he should make sure that the baggage did not touch the woman again. Yes, a sincere apology should be accompanied by the determination not to repeat the mistake.

If we are sincere, our apology will include an admission of any wrong, a seeking of forgiveness, and an effort to undo damage to the extent possible. In turn, the one who was offended should readily forgive the repentant wrongdoer. (Matthew 18:21, 22; Mark 11:25; Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13) Since both parties are imperfect, peacemaking may not always proceed smoothly. Still, words of apology are a strong force toward making peace.
When an Apology Is Inappropriate

Although expressions of regret and sorrow have a soothing effect and contribute to peace, a wise person avoids using such expressions when it is not appropriate to do so. Suppose, for example, that the issue involves integrity to God. When Jesus Christ was on earth, "he humbled himself and became obedient as far as death, yes, death on a torture stake." (Philippians 2:8) He did not, however, apologize for his beliefs in order to alleviate his suffering. And Jesus did not offer an apology when the high priest demanded: "By the living God I put you under oath to tell us whether you are the Christ the Son of God!" Instead of sheepishly apologizing, Jesus courageously replied: "You yourself said it. Yet I say to you men, From henceforth you will see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of heaven." (Matthew 26:63, 64) The thought of keeping peace with the high priest at the cost of his integrity to his Father, Jehovah God, never occurred to Jesus.

Christians show respect and honor to people in authority. Still, they have no need to apologize for their obedience to God and for their love for their brothers.—Matthew 28:19, 20; Romans 13:5-7.
No Obstacle to Peace

Today, we make mistakes because we inherited imperfection and sin from our ancestor Adam. (Romans 5:12; 1 John 1:10) Adam's sinful condition was a result of his rebellion against the Creator. Originally, though, Adam and Eve were perfect and sinless, and God has promised to restore humans to this state of perfection. He will wipe away sin and all its effects.—1 Corinthians 15:56, 57.

Just think what that will mean! In his counsel on the use of the tongue, Jesus' half brother James said: "If anyone does not stumble in word, this one is a perfect man, able to bridle also his whole body." (James 3:2) A perfect man can control his tongue so that he does not have to apologize for its misuse. He is 'able to bridle his whole body.' How wonderful it will be when we become perfect! Then, there will no longer be obstacles to peace between individuals. In the meantime, though, offering a sincere and appropriate apology for a wrong committed will go a long way toward making peace.

* It might well have been because of Paul's poor eyesight that he did not recognize the high priest.


IN July 2000, the California State Legislature in the United States passed a bill designed to relieve people of liability if they express sympathy to an individual who was injured in an accident in which they themselves were involved. Why the legislation? It was noted that when an accident causes injury or damage, people often hesitate to extend an apology lest it be construed in court as an admission of guilt. On the other hand, those who feel that they should be given a prompt apology may get upset, and a minor accident may turn into a major dispute.

Of course, it is not necessary to apologize for an accident that is not your fault. And there may be times when the wise course is to be careful about what you say. An old proverb says: "In the abundance of words there does not fail to be transgression, but the one keeping his lips in check is acting discreetly." (Proverbs 10:19; 27:12) Still, you can be courteous and helpful.

Is it not true, though, that many people have stopped apologizing, even when lawsuits are not involved? At home a wife may lament, 'My husband never apologizes for anything.' At work a foreman may complain, 'My men do not admit their mistakes, and they hardly ever say that they are sorry.' At school a teacher may report, 'Children are not trained to say excuse me.'

"Children are not trained
to say excuse me"
Misbehaving school children

"My men do not
admit their mistakes"
Careless workers

"My husband never
Upset husband and wife

One reason why a person hesitates to apologize may be the fear of rejection. Troubled by the thought of being given the cold shoulder, he may not express how he really feels. Why, the person who was hurt might totally avoid the offender, making reconciliation very difficult.

A lack of concern for other people's feelings may be another reason why some hesitate to apologize. They may reason, 'Apologizing will not undo the blunder I have already made.' Still others hesitate to say that they are sorry because of the possible consequences. They wonder, 'Will I be held responsible and be asked to make compensation?' However, the biggest hurdle to admitting a mistake is pride. A person who is too proud to say "I am sorry" may in essence conclude, 'I don't want to lose face by admitting my blunder. That would weaken my position.'

For whatever reason, many find words of apology hard to utter. But is it really necessary to apologize?

Satisfying Our Hunger for Friendship

Satisfying Our Hunger for Friendship

“LONELINESS is not an illness,” states the book In Search of Intimacy. “Loneliness is a healthy hunger . . . , a natural sign that we are lacking companionship.” Just as hunger moves us to take in nourishing food, feelings of loneliness should move us to seek out good friends.

Yet, as Yaël, a young woman in France, observes, “some people avoid all contact with others.” But isolating ourselves, for whatever reason, solves nothing and inevitably makes us feel lonelier than ever. A Bible proverb says: “One isolating himself will seek his own selfish longing; against all practical wisdom he will break forth.” (Proverbs 18:1) So first we need to recognize our need for friendship and then resolve to do something about it.
Take Practical Steps Toward Friendship

Instead of feeling sorry for yourself or envying those who seem to have more or better friendships, why not adopt a positive attitude, as did Manuela, from Italy? She says: “Particularly as a teen, I felt that I was being left out. To overcome this, I studied people who had good friends. Then I tried to develop the good qualities they had, to make myself a more pleasant person.”

One practical step is to take care of yourself physically and otherwise. A healthful diet, proper rest, and adequate exercise all help you to look and feel your best. Being neat, clean, and well-groomed not only makes you more desirable to be around but also gives you a healthy measure of self-respect. However, do not fall into the trap of becoming overly concerned about outward appearances. “Wearing fashionable clothing doesn’t make any difference in finding real friends,” notes Gaëlle, from France. “What good people are looking for is the inner person.”
A young man 1. exercising, 2. shaving, and 3. reading the Bible

Caring for your body and mind makes you more attractive

After all, our innermost thoughts and feelings affect what we talk about and even how we look. Do you have a confident outlook on life? This will help you to have a happy expression on your face. A genuine smile is the most attractive thing you can wear and, explains body-language expert Roger E. Axtell, “it is absolutely universal” and “is rarely misunderstood.”* Add to that a good sense of humor, and people will be naturally drawn to you.

Remember, such good qualities come from the inside. So actively fill your mind and heart with wholesome, positive thoughts and feelings. Read about interesting and meaningful subjects—current events, different cultures, natural phenomena. Listen to uplifting music. But avoid passively allowing TV, movies, and novels to clog your mind and emotions with fantasy. The relationships usually portrayed on the screen are not real life, not real friendships, but the product of someone’s imagination.

Two women talking

Friends open up to each other

Open Your Heart!

Zuleica, who lives in Italy, recalls: “When I was younger, I was shy, and I found it hard to make friends. But I knew that if we want to have friends, we have to take the initiative, make ourselves known, and get to know others.” Yes, to have real friends, we must open up to others—let them get to know who we really are. Such communication and sharing are far more important to true friendship than having good looks and a charismatic personality. “People with deep and lasting friendships may be introverts, extroverts, young, old, dull, intelligent, homely, good-looking; but the one characteristic they always have in common is openness,” observes counselor Dr. Alan Loy McGinnis. “They have a certain transparency, allowing people to see what is in their hearts.”

This doesn’t mean wearing your heart on your sleeve or revealing your innermost secrets to people you don’t feel comfortable with. But it does mean selectively and progressively revealing your true thoughts and feelings to others. Michela, from Italy, says: “At first, I had the problem of concealing my feelings. I had to make changes, to try to manifest my feelings more, in order for my friends to understand what I was feeling and to feel closer to me.”

Even if you are naturally gregarious, however, it still takes time and shared experiences for mutual trust to develop between friends. In the meantime, try not to be overly anxious about what others may think of you. Elisa, in Italy, recalls: “My problem was that every time I wanted to say something, I was afraid it wasn’t going to come out right. Then I thought, ‘If people really are my friends, they will understand.’ So if something came out wrong, I just laughed at myself, and everyone laughed with me.”

Therefore, relax! Just be yourself. Putting on an act doesn’t help. “No one can be more attractive than by being his or her sincere, best self,” wrote family counselor F. Alexander Magoun. People who are truly happy don’t have to fake it or try to impress others. Only by being genuine can we enjoy genuine friendship. Likewise, we need to let others be themselves. Happy people accept others as they are, not fretting over minor foibles. They don’t feel the need to remake their friends to conform to their own preconceived ideas. Work to be that type of happy, noncritical person.
To Have a Friend, Be a Friend

There is an even more important factor—the most fundamental one. Nearly 2,000 years ago, Jesus showed that the key to success in all human relations is unselfish love. He taught: “Just as you want men to do to you, do the same way to them.” (Luke 6:31) This teaching has come to be known as the Golden Rule. Yes, the only way to have real friends is to be an unselfish, giving friend yourself. In other words, to have a friend, be a friend. To be successful, friendship must be more about giving than about getting. We must be prepared to put our friend’s needs ahead of our own preferences and convenience.

Manuela, quoted previously, notes: “Just as Jesus said it would, true happiness comes from giving. The person receiving is happy, but the giver is even happier. We can give simply by sincerely asking how our friends are, by trying to understand their problems, and by doing all we can without waiting for them to ask.” So reach out to others, including the friends you already have. Strengthen your relationships. Do not sacrifice friendship for less-noble and less-fulfilling pursuits. Friends deserve time and attention. Ruben, in Italy, comments: “Taking time is fundamental to finding and keeping friends. First of all, it takes time to be a good listener. We can all improve in listening and in showing our interest in what others say by not interrupting.”
Show Respect for Others

Another key element of happy, long-term friendships is mutual respect. This includes showing consideration for others’ feelings. You want your friends to be tactful and discreet when their tastes or opinions differ from yours, don’t you? Shouldn’t you treat them the same?—Romans 12:10.

Another way we show respect is by not smothering our friends. Real friendship is neither jealous nor possessive. At 1 Corinthians 13:4, the Bible states: “Love is not jealous.” So guard against the tendency to want your friends all to yourself. If they confide in others, do not take offense and perhaps even shun them. Learn that we all need to widen out in our friendships. Allow your friends to develop other friendships too.

Consider also your friends’ need for privacy. Individuals, as well as married couples, need time for themselves. While you should not hesitate to reach out to others, be balanced and thoughtful, and do not wear out your welcome with your friends. The Bible cautions: “Make your foot rare at the house of your fellowman, that he may not have his sufficiency of you.”—Proverbs 25:17.
Do Not Demand Perfection

Of course, when people get to know each other, they become more aware of the other’s weaknesses as well as strengths. Still, we should not let this hold us back from making friends. “Some expect a bit too much from potential friends,” comments Pacôme, in France. “They want them to have only good qualities, but that’s not possible.” Not one of us has perfection to offer, and we do not have the right to demand it of others. We hope our friends will accept us despite our imperfections and make allowances for us. Shouldn’t we try to overlook our friends’ shortcomings too, by not imagining or overemphasizing them? Author Dennis Prager reminds us: “Flawless friends (i.e., those who never complain, are always loving, never have moods, are fixated on us, and never disappoint us) are known as pets.” If we don’t want to end up with pets as our closest friends, we need to heed the apostle Peter’s advice to let ‘love cover a multitude of sins.’—1 Peter 4:8.

It has been said that friendship doubles our joys and halves our sorrows. However, to be realistic, we cannot expect our friends to fill all our needs or solve all our problems. That is a selfish view of friendship.
Loyal Friends Through Thick and Thin

Once we have made a friend, we should never take his or her friendship for granted. When separated by time and distance, friends think about each other, pray for each other. Even if they can get together only rarely, they can quickly catch up on each other’s lives. Especially in times of difficulty or need, it is vital to be there for our friends. For the most part, we must not withdraw when friends have problems. That may be when they need us most. “A true companion is loving all the time, and is a brother that is born for when there is distress.” (Proverbs 17:17) And when true friends have misunderstandings, they are quick to make amends and forgive each other. Real friends do not abandon their friends just because the road gets bumpy.

By having unselfish motives and by approaching others with a positive attitude, you can gain friends. But the kind of friends you have is also important. How can you select good friends? The next article will discuss that question.

* See also the article “Smile—It’s Good for You!” in the July 8, 2000, issue of Awake!

A young woman A young man
Can Men and Women Be “Just Friends”?

Can men and women who are not married to each other be friends? That depends on what we mean by the word “friend.” Jesus was a close friend of Mary and Martha of Bethany—both single women. (John 11:1, 5) The apostle Paul was a friend of Priscilla and her husband, Aquila. (Acts 18:2, 3) We can be sure that these individuals shared warm affection. At the same time, we cannot imagine that either Jesus or Paul ever allowed these relationships to drift in the direction of romance.

Modern society thrusts men and women into each other’s worlds more than ever before, and it is becoming increasingly necessary for people of both genders to know how to have appropriate, friendly relationships with each other. Couples too benefit from wholesome friendships with other couples and with single people.

“Distinguishing between romantic, sexual and friendly feelings, however, can be exceedingly difficult,” cautions Psychology Today magazine. “The reality that sexual attraction could suddenly enter the equation of a cross-sex friendship uninvited is always lurking in the background. A simple, platonic hug could instantaneously take on a more amorous meaning.”

For married couples, being realistic and practical is especially important. “All forms of intimacy with others can threaten a marriage,” writes author Dennis Prager in his book Happiness Is a Serious Problem. “It is not sex alone that makes for an intimate relationship, and your spouse has the right to expect to be your one truly intimate friend of the opposite sex.” Jesus pointed out that maintaining moral chastity is a matter of the heart. (Matthew 5:28) Therefore, be friendly, but guard your heart and scrupulously avoid situations that could lead to improper thoughts, feelings, or actions toward anyone of the opposite sex.


We All Need Friends

“A friend is someone you can talk to freely about anything, someone you can call any time of the day.” —Yaël, France

“A friend understands when you’re hurt and feels the same things inside that you do.” —Gaëlle, France

“THERE exists a friend sticking closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24) Since the time those words were written in the Bible some 3,000 years ago, human nature has not changed. Friendship is still as vital to the human spirit as food and water are to the human body. Yet, for many, satisfying this basic need for friendship is difficult. Loneliness is common. “We don’t have to look far to see some of the causes,” state Carin Rubenstein and Phillip Shaver in their book In Search of Intimacy. They cite such factors as “widespread mobility”—people changing residence frequently—“impersonal, crime-ridden cities,” and “the substitution of television and home videotape-viewing for face-to-face community life.”

Modern life also spreads our time and energy thin. “Today’s city dweller comes into contact with more people in a week than the seventeenth-century villager did in a year or even a lifetime,” writes Letty Pogrebin in her book Among Friends. With potentially hundreds of acquaintances crowding our lives, it can be difficult to focus on individuals long enough to develop and sustain deep friendships.

Even in places where not long ago the pace of life was less hectic, social conditions are changing rapidly. “We used to feel very, very close to our friends,” says Ulla, who lives in Eastern Europe. “But now many immerse themselves in their jobs or in personal pursuits. Everyone is busy all the time, and we sense our old friendships slowly coming apart.” In the haste of the times, friendships can get relegated to a lower priority.

But our need for friends remains acute. Young people in particular feel this need. As Yaël, quoted above, explains, “when you are young, you need to feel accepted and to belong, to feel close to someone.” Young or old, we all need happy and meaningful friendships. And despite the challenges, there is much we can do to make and keep real friends. The following articles will discuss this.

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