My denomination invited me to write a series of three commentaries for Sunday School teachers to be used next year, and I was happy to complete the assignment a bit early and hit “send” last week. The editor said 90,000+ leaders will use this material. He said the Bible teachers range from college professors to truck drivers, and I was to write for the truckers! As I tell classroom students, the communicator’s task is to take the complex and make it understandable, so I tried to do so.
Writing for truck drivers reminded me of an unpleasant episode many moons ago in the 90s. An editor asked me to write a lesson on stealing in a series on the Ten Commandments. As part of my assignment I gave some possible examples of stealing, including pilfering on the job, slacking in our work and cheating on taxes.
I also related a recent news account of a state official convicted of bribery. According to the story, this Department of Transportation employee alerted truckers when weigh stations were opened or closed. The implication was that drivers could overload their trucks when stations were closed. I suggested this might cause damage to the highways that are built and maintained by taxes, thus stealing from taxpayers.
Soon I got a call from a lady in Missouri. She asked if I were the writer of the lesson. I admitted so. Then she began to berate me for defaming her truck driver husband! At first I offered some defense. I told her my example was an actual news story published in our state. I also told her I wasn’t criticizing all truck drivers, of course, since the report didn’t reveal how many drivers were in this group. I told her I was truly sorry she was offended, and I was sure her husband was a man of integrity. But she wouldn’t be deterred. She was still seething when she ended the call.
This experience is as an example of someone whose mind was set in concrete and for whom an apology wasn’t effective. Very few of the interpersonal conflicts I’ve seen over the years are like this. I can remember only a handful of people as determined as she was not to be appeased. Most of the time people respond reasonably when we sincerely seek resolution.
A friend suggested to me that an apology needs only two sentences: “I’m sorry. It should not have happened.” Period. We inflame the situation when we add to this with “but you provoked me,” or “it wasn’t my fault.”
Getting along with others isn’t a goal we magically achieve one day. It’s a life-long learning process, and a Christian imperative.