Last week I was speaking with a mental health provider on our campus and he told me about a conversation he was having with a student and the topic turned to the exercise of making amends to those we have offended. Most of us will initially associate the making of amends with AA. Step # 8 of AA says--Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all. We were talking about this in relationship to young people we have worked with and the surprising and disappointingly high number of them who had no awareness of this concept. It wasn’t as if they were opposed to it, rather our reaction was generated by their bewilderment of what it meant. Many have simply indicated that it was a notion that was foreign to them.
I used to work with a child psychiatrist whose mantra was “there are many things that must be learned but often are not taught.” The making of amends fits this category. Making amends is the restoration of justice in relationships that our behavior may have broken or damaged. It is stronger than an apology but that simple act is a good place to begin. However, it is unlikely that I will apologize if I first haven’t been taught empathy. And it seems that too many people have grown up subjected to a scolding, punishment, shaming and mistreatment for a behavioral deed but have not been exposed to the redemptive experience of making amends. They get tough instead of tender-hearted. Making amends is actually a tremendously freeing experience. It allows us to be accountable and responsible and then move on. Guilt is an emotion associated with doing something wrong or making a mistake, but shame makes us feel like we are the mistake. If we get stuck there, it can taint our interactions with others and stymie development.