I recently discovered the audio book, The Last Lecture, by Randy Pausch. A long-standing academic tradition, the “last lecture” is premised on what a professor might say to a class as a final “words of wisdom.” Dr. Pausch, terminally ill from pancreatic cancer, actually delivered a last lecture at Carnegie Mellon on September 18, 2007 where has was a professor of computer science. The audio book was terrific and I am enjoying a second listen. The YouTube link to the video can be found here.
With wonderful candor, and humility, Dr. Pausch shares great wisdom and practical advice on living a life worthy of itself. Framed as a future gift to his three children, The Last Lecture, is a gift to all of us. Let me share a scintilla of his wisdom on how to make an apology.
The art of apologizing and meaning it has all but been lost in a time of spin, market messaging, and legal language. The ability to apologize — to deescalate and step away from the Sirens’ call of “being right” — is so very important. Yet, what often results are half-hearted and thinly veiled attempts to manipulate and wallow in the luxury of being right.
But what if apologizing is acknowledging that life is just complicated and two people, or two litigants, or two warring nations just see the circumstance from very different vantage points?
It seems like we have a choice — we can be right (always attractive to us humans), or we can be effective. Maybe, just maybe, apologizing is a commitment to ourselves to become complete, to let go, to move on. Could it be that apologizing is an act of self-creation and healing for ourselves?
Dr. Pausch talks of the two ways that we so often “apologize.”
- “I’m sorry you feel hurt by what I’ve done.” Get real, that isn’t apologizing; it’s a toxic spin to make ourselves right.
- “I apologize for what I did, but you also need to apologize for what you’ve done to me.” No cigar here either. This is asking for an apology, not giving one.
Both of the above are life sucks, and will just piss people off. Then damn, we get to be right again.
Randy recommends a much more effective, three-step process to effective apologizing:
- “What I did was wrong”
- “I feel badly that I hurt you.”
- “How do I make this better?”
Talk about words creating healing. And yes, some people might attempt to take advantage of you when you ask how you can make it better. But Randy found that people will generally appreciate that you made a good effort. He found that they may tell you how to make improve the situation in some overall, easy way. And often, they’ll work hard to make thing better themselves.
Randy’s parting words are to “be patient for others to come around, because they just might.” But either way, we are complete; we can move on. I know for myself I am reminded of the old saw, “too long dumb, too short smart.”
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