An apology can bring powerful healing to conflicted relationships. I was privileged to witness this recently in a juvenile diversion mediation.
In the mediation for a teen offender and her victims, one thirteen year old girl I’ll call Rebecca took a photo with her cell phone of her friend, another young girl I‘ll call Ashley, semi-undressed in the locker room at their school. Rebecca meant it as a joke, but as frequently happens with teens, had not thought through the possible consequences of her actions. Ashley’s mother and the school principal took the invasion of privacy and possible distribution of the photo very seriously, and Rebecca was arrested.
Rebecca and her parents were all present at the mediation with Ashley and her mother.
As soon as we had gotten through the preliminaries and Ashley’s mother had a chance to speak, she immediately offered a sincere, generous apology to Rebecca’s parents.
She said she had done what she needed to do to protect her daughter, that without knowing the exact nature of the photo or how far it had spread, she had to take action. But, she knew from what her daughter had told her that Rebecca was a good person, and she was very sorry for the extreme consequences and trouble that had followed for Rebecca and her parents.
The energy in the room shifted dramatically. Rebecca’s parents apologized right away in response, saying they had wanted to before the mediation, but weren’t sure they were allowed to approach Ashley’s family.
Rebecca, who obviously felt horrible about what had happened, readily apologized to Ashley, and agreed to write a letter to her as well.
Since everyone involved was willing to accept responsibility for their part and graciously accept the others’ apologies, all we mediators had to do was let positive results of the initial apology unfold and watch the transformation that followed.
Although Ashley’s mother knew she had done the right thing for her daughter, she also had the integrity and detachment to separate that from the impact on another family. Rebecca’s parents were concerned for their daughter, but acknowledged that she had done something wrong for which she deserved negative consequences. The two girls now had an opportunity to mend the rift in their previously close friendship.
I am always grateful to witness communication miracles like this, especially as they stand in stark contrast to other mediations where parents and teens can’t or won’t recognize their part.
When I was first learning how to be a mediator, a wise teacher told me,”Apologies are like gold, to be cherished and applauded.” I once again got to see for myself the clarity and healing a sincere apology can bring to a difficult situation.