Today I had a difficult conversation with someone I used to work with. Difficult because there was some unresolved tension between us. Difficult because we were friends as well as colleagues. Difficult because those sort of conversations are, let’s face it, never going to be easy.
What I realised today was – sometimes we should choose to apologise, even if we feel we are losing face, rather than insisting on “being right”. Or, as the great Nelson Mandela put it: “Courageous people do not fear forgiving, for the sake of peace”.
I am not someone who is very good at arguing! I am an internal processor, I like to mull things over and ponder before I speak. I am not always good at defending myself in the moment. I tend to think of all the great lines later on, in the bath or in bed as I replay the conversation to myself. Today, this felt like it was to my detriment. And yet, even though I felt like “the wronged”, I also knew I should be able to apologise for my weakness/flaws/inadequacy. For peace is better than being absolutely right.
I still left feeling a bit hard done by, a bit shaken by the conversation. But I also left knowing I had chosen the bigger picture of friendship over the little picture of self-justification.
Saying sorry is a hard thing. Even when we have every reason to be sorry. It takes courage. Yet, if I look back over the life of Mandela, I see his willingness to apologise again and again – even when he wasn’t wrong. I see his choice to prefer relationship over justified revenge. I see his humility, courage and grace. What an incredible role model. As I write these words, I realise again how much I still have to learn, to put into practice.
And so, it only feels right to end with more wisdom from Mandela. He spoke these words when reflecting on being released from jail after 27 years – “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”