The Power of Apology

World leaders do not take well to people in power apologizing, but I think its opposition to apologies seriously erodes … Continued

World leaders do not take well to people in power apologizing, but I think its opposition to apologies seriously erodes a leader’s edge

Former President Bill Clinton drew the ire of some politicos when he issued apologies for American slavery, and recently, Pope Benedict XVI has issued apologies for his church’s role in sexual molestations, for the priest who denied the veracity of the Holocaust, and for statements some in the Roman Catholic Church have made about and against Islam.

Some leaders are uncomfortable and, actually, angry about those apologies. I am not. I think the pope’s willingness to admit that “the church” not only is not always right but is sometimes wrong, and seriously so, has eased the pain and the offensiveness of those events.

President Barack Obama did somewhat of the same thing, when he admitted that America has been arrogant. I do not know if he apologized, but his acknowledgment of that arrogance, which has made many foreign nations not like the United States, took away some of the raw enmity with which other world leaders, in dealing with America and its policies, struggle with on a daily basis.

On the other hand, his quick add of a criticism of the anti-American sentiment which has been voiced by many nations was unacceptable. It was criticism which was received without too much incident of note because President Obama “owned” the shortcomings, perceived and/or real, of his country first.

In doing so, he eliminated much of the defensiveness with which accused persons, nations or institutions respond when they feel like the accusations are one-sided. After all, there is no one perfect, no one without fault, no one without skeletons in his or her closet.

To be sure, the Roman Catholic church, in the areas lifted up by Pope Benedict XVI, has offended many people. To not acknowledge that offense, and to instead surround itself with denials of wrongdoing, only makes a bad situation worse. His courage to apologize on behalf of the church, in spite of the criticism he knew he would get, speaks volumes on his understanding of human nature.

The world, after all, is about relationships. One can do nothing without good relationships, and there can be no good relationship if one entity in the relationship takes the position that it, or he, or she, is always right, and everyone else is always wrong. Even in personal relationships, the moment one person can “back down” or acknowledge his or her own foibles and role in a conflict makes way for the other person to back down as well and for the two parties to stand on ground now fertile enough for conversation, understanding, negotiation and reconciliation.

The pope did a good thing, a right thing, and a timely thing in making those apologies. There will be some who will forever criticize him and say that he is a weak leader for apologizing, but I beg to differ. Only a strong person, a strong leader, can apologize, understanding that too many moments squandered today on behalf of “being right,” makes moments later for real relationship and healing all but impossible.

The pope’s words shows that he understands that false pride really does come before the fall.

Susan K. Smith
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