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“Little said is soon amended” (Miguel de Cervantes).
THE ONLY WAY TO AVOID HAVING TO MAKE AMENDS IS TO DO NOTHING. If we’re actively involved with life, doing our best to do as we should, we’re going to make some mistakes, and when we do, amends will have to be made. Looking at it one way, the less we say and do, the fewer apologies we’ll have to make. “Little said is soon amended,” as Cervantes said, and there is definitely some wisdom in that. But on the other hand, life is about more than the negative avoidance of mistakes; in a larger sense, it’s about the positive use of our abilities to accomplish as many good results as we can. We can’t give up or stop trying. Making amends is just one of life’s necessities.
In its most basic sense, to make amends is to “mend” a situation that has been “broken” by an error that we’ve committed. And, of course, to “mend” something is to “repair” it. Thus the American Heritage Dictionary defines “amends” as “reparation or payment made as satisfaction for insult or injury.” So when we make amends, we “repair” what we’ve damaged, making “reparation” for our wrongdoing.
To make amends honorably, we must do a good bit more than offer an apology, though that’s the obvious starting point. Even at the level of apology, we must do more than express regret that someone’s been hurt. We must (a) acknowledge the wrongfulness of what we’ve done, (b) commit ourselves to change (that is, promise that we would never do the same thing again, even in the same circumstances), and then (c) make restitution for the damage done, to whatever extent that may be possible. Obviously, many wrongs do damage for which no perfect restitution can be made, but we should never fail to try. If we’ve gotten out of the blaming mode and into the amendment mode, the question we’ll always ask is, “What can I do to make it up to you?”
Making amends is one of the most difficult things in life, but it’s also one of the most important. If we can’t do it eagerly, we can at least do it willingly. And just as important, the making of amends is something we should do regularly. Timely amendments are a part of the maintenance that keeps our relationships working. If we value these relationships, we’ll spare no effort to fix them when they break.
“Keep your friendships in repair” (Ralph Waldo Emerson).