Have You Really Forgiven?

Forgiveness is challenging. One of its challenges is that people think that they have forgiven, when they really haven’t. Christians know they’re supposed to forgive, so they convince themselves that they have, but their heart is still unforgiving. The problem is that then they stop working on forgiveness, telling themselves they’ve already taken care of that. They are deceived. In my work as a conflict coach, I frequently encounter people who insist that they have forgiven, although it doesn’t really sound like it to me. It can be challenging to help them see that they haven’t quite arrived.

I recently heard author Lysa TerKeurst speak on Moody Radio about a way to discern whether you’ve truly forgiven. She said you should listen to the story you tell yourself, and others, about the incident or event. How are you describing it? Is it about you, and the details of what happened, or is it about the life lesson you learned from the experience?  If you’ve forgiven, your focus is on the experiential wisdom that you gained along the way. She reminded us that forgiveness is not a feeling; it’s an act of obedience. As many have noted, if you wait until you feel like forgiving, you will never forgive. But, even after you’ve resolved to forgive, it can be hard to discern whether you’re there; this is one way to assess that.

This and other nuggets on forgiveness are in Lysa TerKeurst’s book, Forgiving What You Can’t Forget.

Apology, Take Two

We don’t often get a chance to see a weak apology improved by a second one, but the CEO of Kyte Baby offered just that recently. Kyte Baby is a Texas-based company known for its baby apparel. A new Kyte Baby employee named Marissa Hughes adopted a baby who was born prematurely last month. Hughes asked to work remotely while staying with her baby in the NICU, but the company determined that was not feasible given her duties, and terminated her. Apparently Marissa Hughes’s sister posted this news on Tik-Tok, prompting a backlash from people who saw this action as inconsistent with a company that promotes parenting.

So the CEO of Kyte Baby, Ying Liu, posted an apology to Hughes last Friday in a TikTok video. Liu apologized for how her parental leave was communicated and handled, noting that Kyte Baby “prides itself in being a family-oriented company.” Liu said, “It was my oversight that she didn’t feel supported,” and that she would be reviewing the company’s HR policies to “avoid hurting our staff and community in the future.” This was apparently a public apology that was viewed – and critiqued – by others on social media. They complained that the apology appeared disingenuous and canned.

A few hours later, Ms. Liu posted a second apology on TikTok, acknowledging that the first video was scripted and that she now wanted to go “off script.” In the second apology, she said, “I was the one who made that decision to veto her request to go remote…. This was a terrible decision. I was insensitive and selfish … I cannot imagine the stress that she had to go through, not having the option to go back to work and having to deal with a newborn in the NICU. I fully realize the impact of my decision in this. Thinking back, it was a terrible mistake.”

In effect, she apologized for her apology.

Because we have video of both apologies, it’s a wonderful opportunity to see what makes a good apology, and what doesn’t. It’s not the words alone. I think Ms. Liu might have gotten away with her first apology if she had said it like she meant it; but it did indeed appear that she was reading a script. One wonders if she consulted with anyone before posting the first video; if she had run it by a trusted colleague, would they have recognized and informed her how insincere it sounded? I also know from experience that scripted apologies can work — if the recipient is prepared for it and understands why it needs to be read by the offender. Those conditions never hold for public apologies, so it’s a real challenge to pull off a scripted public apology well.

Even the second apology was not enough for the employee, Marissa Hughes. She posted on Facebook that she would not be returning to the company, although she was encouraged to hear that it would make changes for current and future employees. And customers are now encouraging a boycott of Kyte Baby, proving that even a good apology cannot always fix things.



When an Apology is not an Apology

As part of their plea deals, lawyers Sidney Powell and Kenneth Chesebro were required to apologize for their roles in interfering with the elections in Georgia in 2020. They both pled guilty and were sentenced in October 2023. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution used an open records request to obtain the apologies that were offered at their plea hearings, and reported this week that they are each one sentence long, hand-written on notebook paper:

“I apologize to the citizens of the State of Georgia and to the citizens of Fulton County for my involvement in Count 15 of the indictment,” Kenneth Chesebro wrote.

“I apologize for my actions in connection with the events in Coffee County,” wrote Sidney Powell.

These are not apologies. They do not include enough of the elements of a good apology to meet the basic definition. When analyzing public apologies, I try to note what is good about the apology before zeroing on its deficiencies. Here, the most I can say is that the statements don’t shift blame to others. But neither do they really accept responsibility, an essential element of an apology. Often at sentencing hearings, the defendant does the opposite of what these two did — the defendant apologizes so profusely that their sincerity is tainted by the appearance of winning favor (a lighter sentence) from the judge. No worries about that here. No effort to take responsibility, acknowledge the harm done, articulate the specific actions that were so egregious, express remorse, or identify how they hope to behave differently in the future. One wonders why the judge accepted these as “apologies.” They’re not.

Stop Asking About Mental Health

Michigan’s State Court Administrative Office took some steps recently to align mediation rules regarding parties’ mental health with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Mediators were previously encouraged to screen for mental health issues that might contribute to domestic violence, as part of the Domestic Violence Screening Protocol. For example, in assessing a party’s ability to negotiate, the Protocol used to recommend that a mediator ask a party, “Do you believe mental health (illness) issues or emotional problems have ever caused difficulties for either of you?” (Section 6). That question has now been omitted. The Protocol used to suggest “mental illness” as a reason a mediator could give to decline mediation without mentioning domestic violence; that too has now been deleted. (Section H.4.) The ADA – which applies to mediation – protects the privacy of an individual with a psychiatric disability, and leaves disclosure up to that person; it cannot be required. Omitting these questions from the DV Screening Protocol brings Michigan practice more in line with the ADA.

In conjunction with the changes to the DV Screening Protocol, SCAO also revised the Mediator Standards of Conduct. Standard VI, “Safety of Mediation,” used to include “mental illness or other mental impairment” as one of several examples of an impediment that would make mediation physically or emotionally unsafe for any participant. That phrase has now been deleted from the Standard.

I served on the SCAO-convened committee to update the Mediator Standards of Conduct in 2011-2012. At that time, Michigan’s Standards of Conduct were just two pages long, and did not address domestic relations mediation. There were ABA Model Standards of Conduct for general civil mediators, and Model Standards for Family and Divorce Mediation, so we decided to merge the two into one set of standards that would cover all types of mediation. What is now Standard VI, Safety of Mediation, is the sole provision that had no corollary in the ABA Model Standards of Conduct; while the “safety” concept came from the family mediation standards, they contain no mention of mental illness. Omitting this phrase lines up the Michigan standard with other national standards. The Association of Professional Family Mediators Standards of Practice permit a mediator to suspend or terminate the mediation, among other reasons, “when a participant is unable to participate due to … a debilitating physical or mental condition.” (Standard X.A.3) That seems less intrusive than asking about mental health  ahead of the mediation.

Although the screening protocol was designed for domestic relations cases, it’s a wise practice to use it in every case. Skipping the questions about mental health will take some adjustment but will better respect the privacy of parties to mediation.

Mediator Testifies

The Facts: A volunteer mediator for a community mediation center conducted a Zoom mediation in a domestic case over the issue of parenting time. Each party had an attorney, although the attorneys were not present in the mediation. The parties reached an agreement, after the father checked in by phone with his attorney. The mediator asked each party to read half of the agreement while the other listened, to ensure that the document comprised their full agreement. The parties signed the agreement. The father subsequently claimed that the agreement omitted a provision on parenting time during the summer that the parties had discussed. Father’s attorney apparently had a conversation with center staff that lead the attorney to believe that the mediator would agree with hhis position. So the father made a motion to amend the mediation agreement, and subpoenaed the mediator to testify.

The Hearing: At the hearing this week, the parties produced a waiver of confidentiality, permitting the mediator to testify. (See MCR 2.412(D)(1)). The mother’s attorney argued that the mediation agreement was complete. When questioned by father’s attorney, the mediator said he could not recall whether the parties discussed summer parenting time, so the father’s attorney withdrew the motion.

The Learnings: No one welcomes a subpoena, especially mediators being asked to testify about what happened in a mediation. Mediation is generally confidential, and mediators can challenge on that ground, but when the parties waive confidentiality, the mediator lacks a legal reason not to testify.

In this case, the mediator did not know until the hearing that the parties had waived confidentiality. The mediator could have contacted mother’s attorney to hear her view of the father’s motion, in which case the mediator might have learned about the waiver. Perhaps the mediator could’ve contacted the father’s attorney to encourage him to find some other way to resolve this issue besides having the mediator testify. If the parties’ agreement had included a clause in their agreement to the effect that any issues that arise in implementing the agreement would be resolved through mediation, perhaps the hearing could have been avoided altogether, and the parties could have returned to mediation to resolve the matter.

I know of only a few cases where mediators have actually testified. Usually it’s a situation like this where the parties have waived confidentiality, but occasionally the mediator wants to testify to clarify an erroneous assertion made by a party. To preserve the general confidentiality of mediation, it seems like it’s best for mediators to refrain from testifying if possible.