Apologizing is easier if the other party goes first.
When I walked into the kitchen that morning, it was apparent that I’d need a knife to cut through the air. Two boys seated at two different tables. Each boy had his own bowl, spoon, and cereal on the table and a gallon of milk. Two gallons, one almost empty, were sitting there in the summer heat. Obviously, these two boys were not going to eat at the same table and they were most certainly not going to share the milk jug or its contents. They weren’t talking and their looks told me they expected me to slice through the problem quickly. Both boys obviously thought I should choose his side. Neither boy had any intention of apologizing.
Scattered across the kitchen counters was the dishwasher ingredients – newly washed, but not put away. The drawer of the cupboard housing the set mouse traps stood ajar – another obvious sign that there had been a disagreement about who got to check the mouse trap first.
I checked my smile and feigned sleepiness.
“Well, it looks like we’ve got a lot to get done before we get to eat breakfast this morning. Let’s just put the milk back in the fridge and move everything on the dining room table to the kitchen, since we never eat breakfast in the dining room.”
Grudgingly, they complied, still not talking to each other. Their glares kept passing through me from one boy to the other. Apologizing was still not on their agenda.
While they restored the dishwasher contents to the proper kitchen cabinet, I discovered the problem. Both boys wanted to check the mouse trap drawer. [Here is where I confess that country living guarantees mice from time to time in one’s kitchen]. Both boys wanted to empty the dishwasher. Neither boy wanted to put the items away. Both boys knew there would be no breakfast until this morning job was done. Neither boy was going to give in, so they hoped I’d acquiesce this one time and allow them to go ahead and eat without completing the job.
“You know we don’t do that in this house,” I told them. “You know we eat after the dishwasher is emptied. Plus, food goes down a whole lot better if everybody is happy when they eat.” [Here is where I confess that I knew holding off breakfast would guarantee an interest in getting things between the two of them fixed sooner rather than later.]
Not Giving In
The problem was that this time, neither boy was going to give in. Neither boy thought he was in the wrong, so neither boy saw any need of apologizing. They called a stalemate and each had claimed a spot for breakfast: one in the kitchen and one in the dining room.
That was when I walked in. It was all I could do not to smile at the looks on their faces and the obvious staking of turf between the two of them. It was a little early in the morning for me to talk out reconciliation, but after my coffee, I was ready to think clearly. [Here is where I confess that my chatter while making my coffee helped slice through some of the thick, cold air, so I took my good ole’ time fixing my coffee and chattered away because I felt the ice begin to thaw and saw the benefits right before my eyes.]
I suppose that by needing to work together to clean up the mess their discord had made, they were a little more amicable than before. I also suppose that hunger called forth willingness to find a way to settle their discord.
Finally, the older (by one year) brother spoke, “Okay, George, I’ll say I’m sorry to you if you will say you’re sorry to me first.”
“Oh, no, no, no, no, no,” I replied. “That is not the way to say you’re sorry. If you’re going to make him do something before you say you’re sorry, then you’re not sorry. If he has to do something first before you apologize, then you’re really not sorry. You just want to eat.”
In time, they worked it out. [Here’s where I admit that kids are usually quicker to forgive and go on than adults are.] We sat down together and only needed one gallon of milk between the two of them. Everybody ended up being happy – and sorry. Everybody apologized. I can’t even remember who spoke first, but they worked it out.
That evening I told Dave about the incident. We laughed with each other about these foster boys we’d come to love in just a few short weeks.
“That never works in marriage or a job,” Dave mused. “They need to learn how to deal with conflict the right way now.”
Whether it’s marriage, family, or work-related conflicts, calling a stalemate until the other party apologizes is not really working things out. When an apology isn’t sincere, the other party will know even though he might not show it.
Do you ever feel that you always have to be the first one to apologize? Me, too.
Does that matter?
That slogan, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” is so untrue. Love really means you’re more than willing to say you’re sorry.
It takes a bigger and stronger person to apologize first. Doesn’t it?
Be the bigger person. Be the stronger person. Be the leader. It will put you ahead, every time.