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The First Thing - Reflections

I've just been reflecting on Ira Byock's book, "Four Things that Matter Most", which I often use when working with patients and families at Hospice. The first one he lists is kind of hedged/not totally honest. As listed they are:

  1. Please forgive me.
  2. I forgive you.
  3. Thank you.
  4. I love you.

My issue is that #1 is missing an implied first component; which is to say, "I'm sorry".

While the common understanding is that Canadians are very polite, the truth is that all of western culture really struggles with apology and reconciliation.

Many people have suffered at the hands of another and think, "I don't have anything to apologize for!" or , "Me? Apologize to him/her?" and just blow by the idea.

Your emotions, behaviour, and actions are yours. The emotions, behaviour, and actions of another are theirs. Their hurtful behaviour does not excuse or justify your hurtful behaviour - just as how they may have been treated by their parents, or what they have suffered does not excuse what they have passed on to you. It explains it... perhaps. It makes it understandable... maybe; but it doesn't excuse it, or make it okay.

In every relationship, good or bad, we all have done things that have been unkind, insensitive, and hurtful. There is always something that we can apologize for - and that is where the real juice is.

The other may accept the apology or not. They may offer forgiveness or not. You cannot extract forgiveness from another. For the most part though, that aspect matters less than you think.

A sincere and honest apology, well made, is most beneficial for the person making it, because it allows one to claim full responsibility for ones own life, emotions, and actions. It is to reclaim something that you may have given someone else to carry. An apology unburdens the other, and re-integrates oneself. It is a gift that you give to the other, and doubly so to yourself.

Please let me be clear, I love this book, and I will continue to recommend it, but after working with people in the field, the unvarnished, and direct path is:

  1. I am sorry...
  2. I forgive you...
  3. Thank you...
  4. I love you...

I feel it's important to say that each of these things as listed are just the germ - the seed - of conversations that will happen out of and around the seed. You can't just say these four bits and expect magic.

Each one needs reflection, contemplation, and deep and sincere expression. You can do this work even when the other is unresponsive. I've even learned that in hypnotherapy, you can do this work even after the other has already died to extremely powerful effect.