December 16, 2014

How to Say “I’m Sorry” for Real.

im sorry

We are all humans and we all screw up.

When I was nine, a boy on our street held my little brother down and threatened to beat him up. I spit on him and called him names and punched him in the neck. I wasn’t sorry but later to avoid getting in more trouble I said I was.

When I got pulled over going eighty I said “I’m sorry Officer.” I was in a hurry, I was sorry I had gotten caught but I was not actually sorry that I was going eighty.

How many times every day do we casually say we are sorry? ” Hey sorry I didn’t call you back”—“Sorry I don’t have spare change”— “Sorry, what was that you said?”

There is an enormous difference between saying we are sorry and really being sorry and honestly, if it’s not authentic “I’m sorry” becomes nothing more than empty words which can make things far worse rather than better when it really counts.

Usually if an apology is in order we have said or done something that has caused difficulty or pain to someone or something else. An apology is one way of validating the other person, admitting our shortcoming, acknowledging an accident or oversight and the first step in righting a wrong.

I have always lived under the umbrella of “no regret” because every single decision we make has the potential to change our entire life.

Every word we speak or write or sing, every thing we do, eat, build or tear down has potential to change the course of our lives and affect everything including our friends, our jobs, our hobbies, our families, our health, our loves, our joys and our sorrows. Every single decision has power and every single decision I have ever made has played a part in my arriving where I am today. Had I said “yes” when I said “no” or “no” when I said “yes” anytime in the past 40 years everything I know now may be vastly different. This is not necessarily a good thing.

I lived believing it was wrong to regret anything mostly because I had a great life and was almost always in a position of gratitude for my experiences.

For years I have denied regret as a way, I thought, to honor my experiences but I have since learned that it was also a way to not be wrong because lets face it, who likes to be wrong? My life recently changed dramatically because I refused to say “I regret”. I said “I’m sorry” many times but in my stubbornness I put up a wall and simply refused to say the word regret for fear of angering the powers that be by not recognizing the value of the experiences of my past.

Now I deeply regret that.

Regret by definition is a feeling of sadness, repentance, or disappointment over something that has happened or been done.

Sorry by definition is feeling sorrow, regret, or penitence.

Yes, I was sad, repentant and disappointed as a result of my actions and things would have been far better had I not gotten so hung up on language and pride…Or would they have been?

I’m sorry I lied, ate the last squid dumpling, overdrew the back account or treated you badly.

I regret lying, eating the last squid dumpling, overdrawing the bank account and treating you badly.

They are all just words until they are followed up with action.

An honest to goodness apology requires humbling yourself, seeking to understand and then changing your behavior and not just for the duration of the apology but for the duration of…forever. Really putting yourself in another’s shoes and looking at your situation objectively, from a distance without fear or pride is the only way to really and truly show another that you are indeed sorry and regretful. It’s important to put ego aside and not just say we are sorry but to actually BE sorry and to do it sooner rather than later. The old “better late than never” might apply when arriving at a party but not necessarily when making amends. Sometimes “I’m sorry” comes to late and becomes a lifelong regret.

The older I get the easier it is to see that while having no regrets is a beautiful, idealistic way to live it is no longer true or real for me. At least not entirely. And it really gets in the way of a sincere apology.

I regret many things but I am grateful for the lessons those things taught me.

I regret ever smoking, I regret not flossing I regret not saving money, I regret driving 80 past that cop, I regret words, actions, behaviors and most of all I regret being to stubborn to regret. But I am grateful for the opportunity to learn how to apologize better in the future because we are all human and we all screw up. I have a feeling it’s a skill I’m going to use again.

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 Author: Kimby Maxson

Editor: Renee Picard

Photo: Authors own



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