A Final Thought: The Power of Apology


By Mitch Allen

I have been taken to task by Mimi readers upset at my use of Jesus’s name as an interjection in my November column, My How Time Flies. We often call out to the heavens instinctively and spontaneously in moments of great joy, fear or shock, yet one can soften these reactions to the less offensive “gosh,” “golly,” “jees,” “geeeez,” “lawdy,” or the now ubiquitous “OMG.”

I wanted to express a level of great surprise in my column, and could have chosen any of the above euphemisms, but I did not.

I was wrong. And I apologize.

Mimi is mailed to more than 277,000 homes throughout Northeast Ohio’s suburbs, and our readers trust us to present important information about local businesses in a manner that is respectful of the many different customs, religions, ethnic backgrounds, etc. that represent our vast readership. I broke that trust, and I promise to be more sensitive in the future.

I was touched by the tone of the emails I received. Unlike the vitriol spewed by online trolls, most readers were gentle and kind, often as concerned as much about me and my immortal soul as they were about defending their faith. I appreciate that so very much.

I would like to use this opportunity to reflect further on the importance of apologizing. We humans are highly social. Our relationships with individuals and groups are essential to our mental health and, among other things, we use apology to demonstrate how much we care, to heal relationships with those we have hurt, and to help resolve our own guilt and shame.

One of the most meaningful apologies I ever received came from the late John Dotson, the former publisher of the Akron Beacon Journal, a legend in the newspaper industry who led us to a Pulitzer Prize.

It was the mid-1990s, when the then Cleveland Indians were battling the New York Yankees in the playoffs. We were publishing full-page posters on the fronts of our sports sections to reflect the enthusiasm our readers had for the team. A few of us were gathered in John’s office brainstorming poster concepts when someone suggested the headline, “Yankees Go Home.” I said the idea was clever, and John replied, “That’s because you’re from the South.”

I didn’t think much of it, but after the meeting, John called me back upstairs to his mahogany-paneled corner office to apologize. “I should not have made an assumption of your motives based on where you’re from,” he said. “I apologize.” I told him not to worry; I was not offended.

Then he revealed to me the story of when he and his best friend enlisted in the U.S. Army in the mid-1950s. After flying from their home in New Jersey to my hometown of Columbus, Georgia, to report to nearby Ft. Benning for basic training, John and his friend hopped into a cab to be driven to base.

Here, I should tell you, John Dotson was a light-skinned Black man.

“Are you a Colored boy?” the cab driver asked. I cringed at John’s use of the term.

“Yes,” John replied.

“You’ll have to wait for the next cab. Whites and Coloreds can’t ride in the same cab.”

A few weeks later, John’s best friend, a young White man, was swept away into the overwhelming atmosphere of the segregated South, and John never saw him again.

“It sounds like you have every right to have misgivings about the South,” I said, adding, “I’m sorry you were treated that way.”

“Still,” John replied, “that does not give me the right to prejudge you or your intentions. I would have thought I would have behaved differently.

When my mother was growing up in Waycross, Georgia, her father never said he loved her. One day she asked him, “Why don’t you ever tell me you love me?”

He could have said, “Oh, I’m so sorry. Of course, I love you!” Instead, he replied, “It’s just not my way.” That single lack of remorse left my mother and grandfather emotionally distant for the remainder of their lives. Mom, however, rebounded hard the other way, telling us kids she loved us almost every day.

She was not a perfect mother, and I was not a perfect son. There were things we could have apologized to each other for, but we never did—not even on her deathbed.

My last words to her were: “I have to leave for the airport now to fly back to Cleveland, but when I return in a few weeks, you’re going to feel better. You’ll sit up and we’ll play cards and have a great time.” She looked up at me with eyes that said, We both know that’s not going to happen. Then she uttered her last words to me: “I love you, Mitch.”

That evening, after crawling into bed back in Akron, her caregiver called to tell me Mom had passed, adding, “She was waiting for you to leave. You know that, right?”

If we feel in our hearts we have something to apologize for, we should do it now. You never know when time will run out. And there is no statute of limitations on apologizing. It doesn’t matter how far in the past the offense occurred, confessing our shortcomings and asking for forgiveness does wonders for the health of the human soul.


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