Both the ancient Greeks and the ancient Romans used an olive branch as a symbol of peace. The expression, “to extend an olive branch,” is often used as a metaphor for reconciliation. And now as the new year approaches, I tend to think about relationships, especially the ones that have fallen by the wayside, and most especially about those relationships I miss. How do I extend the olive branch? What do I need to do to make amends?
Typically, to make amends means to apologize. I generally think that an apology is important, as long as it’s genuine. I wonder, though, what if an apology isn’t enough? Apologies relate to something that occurred in the past, and a sincere apology usually means that you’ve taken responsibility for your involvement. Although your apology was given in good faith and accepted in that spirit, you may not be forgiven unless and until you accompany your apology with the sincere assurance to make amends by changing your future behavior.
Example: You tend to borrow your brother’s SUV a couple of times a month for Costco runs, and you’ve not once offered to fill up his gas tank. The last two times you’ve popped over to his house to grab his vehicle, he’s denied you access. You ask him (via text, of course) whether he’s mad at you, and he finally explodes about feeling taken for granted, and that you always leave his SUV on empty. You apologize profusely, and promise that you will do better next time. Then, you make good on your promise and not only fill up his tank, but get his car washed. You continue to fill up the gas tank every time you borrow the car. All is well because you understand that you need to apologize and you need to make amends. Case closed.
But what if you’re not forgiven? What if you were “too busy” to visit your grandmother in the nursing home after she had her second stroke, and then she suddenly passed away? How can you make amends with someone who’s no longer here? Obviously, you’ll need to find another way. One suggestion is to make a contribution to a cause that was important to your grandmother. Either write a nice check in her memory, or donate your time. Or both. And while you’re at it, make sure that you understand what you were meant to learn by this life lesson so that it doesn’t happen again.
Finally, and probably most importantly, make amends to yourself. This can be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for some of us. We tend to be harder on ourselves than we ever need to be, and we all have a few regrets. If you’re one of those people, I urge you to forgive yourself. Make amends with your past behavior, and do it with integrity and compassion, not only for the purpose of learning your lesson, but also for giving yourself the gift of moving forward.