Sometimes an apology seems strangely unsatisfying, and incomplete. In theory, if you make a mess, (either literally or figuratively) you simply say “I’m sorry” and everything is fine again. When I had kids I discovered they treated this like “fairy dust”, and expected that if the right words were uttered, all consequences should magically go away. Unacceptable to me, and they weren’t learning how to change their behavior, just to mouth some meaningless words.
So several years ago, I implemented the idea of the “do-over” with my kids. When one of the kids does something they know they shouldn’t have done, or hurts someone and doesn’t know how to handle it, I give them the option of a “do-over”.
The great thing about a “do-over” is that it goes one step past an apology. Anyone can say “I’m sorry”, and I can’t even count how many insincere apologies I’ve received from both children and adults. But a “do-over” allows you the opportunity to try it again, letting the other person know what your intended outcome looks like. If you said something harshly, you can change your tone. If you wish you had said something completely different, or approached a problem in a different way, you can do it the “right” way. If you wish you had started with love and not anger, you can rewind and begin again.
Although it started as a parenting technique, I find I’m using it often in my everyday life. It’s amazing to me how often a situation diffuses by admitting “I’m sorry, I didn’t say that the way I should have. What I meant to say was…..” I had an opportunity recently to have a “do-over” with a person I think I may have inadvertently hurt. I can’t guarantee what it felt like for them, but for me to attempt to mend that rift felt great.
Not all relationships can be salvaged with a “do-over”. I’ve had my attempts fail miserably. It seemed like every time I tried to mend, the rift just deepened. And I’ve wondered, why the difference?
A “do-over” requires something of both the giver and the receiver. It’s humbling to have to admit I may have said something insensitive or hurtful. It’s easier to blame someone for not understanding the way I mean it than taking responsibility for the way I said it. I may need to re-phrase a message that I honestly thought I delivered pretty well the first time. I have to decide the relationship is more important than my pride. Ouch.
It also requires a level of trust- you must believe that I did not mean to harm you. The other person also has to put their anger aside and give me a chance to set things right. And I think sometimes it’s easier to be angry than to step back and give the other person an opportunity to try again. That may be how you know that the time for that relationship is gone. It’s been a huge sign to me if there are constant misunderstandings and no way to fix with a “do-over” that the relationship is probably over, at least for now.
I love the expression “like hugging a porcupine”. I held a hedgehog recently, and it’s funny how quills that can hurt so badly when in a defensive posture are actually calming to touch when the animal is calm and the quills are down. When someone’s in a defensive mode and their “quills” are up, it can be tough to communicate. I’ve run into a lot of people in the last year that are so overwhelmed and exhausted that misunderstandings quickly occur. And a lot of times I’ve been that porcupine. If I’m having a tough time, not only may I misunderstand what someone says to me, but I may say things in an insensitive way because I’m distracted by my own life.
I admit that I’m not very good at this yet, but it’s a skill I’m working on. By being willing to open a dialogue with an apology and a “do-over” I hope to show the people in my life just how valuable they are. And I’m trying to keep the prickly ends of my porcupine quills away from people trying to reach out.