It was an overcast day in Golden, CO when my good friends and I decided we wanted to go outdoor rock climbing at Lookout Mountain Crag. This is a perfect place to teach beginner rock climbers the fundamentals of climbing. The walls are not vertical, the hand holds are well distinguished, and there is minimal risk. I, being the most experienced, was given the task of setting up the ropes and anchor systems in order to ensure everyone’s safety. After setting up one rope, all of my friends went down to start climbing as I began to set up the second.
When you set up a top rope anchor, you are at the top of the climb and once everything is set up and secure, you throw the rope down. I went over to the second area to start setting up our second rope, but there were some climbers already climbing in that area. I could set up the anchor and rope, but I would disrupt the other group’s climbing by throwing a rope down next to them (and possibly hitting them). It was getting darker outside with every passing minute and I wanted to hurry and get everything set up for my friends. In order to make sure it was okay, I yelled down to them, “Is it okay if I set up our rope here and throw it down?” With hesitation they responded, “Yeah, just be careful!”
A Serious Mistake
With their permission, I excitedly and hastily began working on setting up the anchor system for our climb. I unbuckled my backpack straps and whirled it around my body. I began fumbling around with the gear and in my excitement and haste, I forget about general courtesies and more importantly safety and security of everyone around me. Before I knew what was really happening, I saw a softball sized rock start falling down the 50 ft. rock wall in what seemed to be slow motion. I yelled, “ROCK!” from the top, but it was too late. The rock squarely hit the woman climbing in the head.
“Was that my fault?” I remember thinking to myself after the rock hit her. I ran to the edge and called down, asking if everyone was okay. The woman climbing thankfully was wearing a helmet, but she was pretty shaken up. The man on the ground yelled up to me in anger and said, “What are you doing? You just hit us with that rock! That’s after you already hit us with your water bottle!”
Confused, I replied dumbly, “Water bottle?” The woman climbing was quick to tell me that when I whipped around in excitement and took my backpack off, my full 1 liter water bottle fell out of my backpack and hit her hand. They didn’t say anything because they knew it was an accident, but the rock took things too far. On both instances, she could have been severely hurt or worse.
Defensiveness, Passivity, or Apologetically
Now I had a choice: respond with defensiveness, respond with passivity, or respond apologetically. I probably could have justified responding with defensiveness. Both the water bottle and rock were accidents and there is inherent risk when you go rock climbing — that’s why we wear helmets! I could have also simply yelled down, “Sorry,” and then out of embarrassment and shame, ran away to avoid their condoning glances and judgments about my character. Defensiveness though typically hurts relationships, passivity avoids mending relationships, but apologizing begins the healing process. I chose to respond apologetically.
How to Honestly Ask for Forgiveness
An apology is only as good as how it is delivered. Someone saying, “I’m sorry” with a curled, Grinch-like smile and looking at the ground, probably doesn’t mean the words they are saying. On the other hand, a person looking into the eyes of the one they have wronged and sincerely apologizing for what has happened can make the grievance vanish. There are many ways to ensure your apology is honest and sincere, but more than likely it will include these things:
A statement of the negative actions — “I was wrong to…”
A tentative reflection of feeling — “I imagine you feel…”
A statement of regret — “I regret…”
A specific suggestion of how you will try to make things right — “I intend to…”
Asking for forgiveness — “Will you forgive me?”
When you’re asking for forgiveness, keep these things in mind:
- Apologize as quickly as you can.
- Be specific about what you’ve done to wrong the other person.
- Use “I” statements to express your perspective, feelings, and regrets.
- Ask for forgiveness privately.
- Do not minimize what occurred or tell the other person how they should be feeling.
- Use good eye contact and have an open posture (avoid crossing arms or facing away from the person).
- They don’t have to forgive you. Asking for forgiveness is an honest request — one that can be denied.
- It’s not your job to convince the other person to forgive you. Sometimes forgiveness needs time.
After my verbal exchange from 50 feet away with the two people I wronged, I ran quickly around the side of the mountain so I could talk to them face to face. I was wearing sunglasses and I immediately took them off so they could see my eyes. The couple now was sitting on the ground, so to avoid being higher than them (a position of power) I sat. I asked for forgiveness by saying, “I was wrong to act recklessly and in haste when I was at the top of the climb. I was wrong to make the rock fall and for my water bottle to slip out of my bag. Both of these things endangered your safety. I imagine you feel angry, frustrated, and frightened. I regret acting so quickly and forgetting about the safety of you both. I intend to be more careful next time and if I caused any damage to you or your equipment, I will help financially. Will you forgive me?”
Asking for forgiveness and admitting you did something wrong can be terribly difficult to our pride and ego. But it is extremely humbling, rewarding, and healing for both the offender and the wronged. The couple forgave me and we were able to climb side by side without any resentment or tension between us.
Questions to Consider
Have you ever done something wrong, but avoided asking for forgiveness? How has that affected the relationship between you and that person?
Have you ever responded with defensiveness? Did defensiveness help or hurt the situation?
Are there things in your life that you have not asked forgiveness for? What are some steps you could take in mending those relationships?