The Lost Art of Saying We’re Sorry
Since we all goof up now and then, why is acknowledging our mistakes so difficult?
Of course, it is the month to affectionately linger on romantic topics and all that we love about each other and the world. Fine, a lot of folks are running in that rosy direction. I am all for sweet declarations for those I love and why, and even for what I love and why.
But I’d like to go anti-trend for February and in this briefest of months touch on a lot of wrongs and why it is so hard for people to admit to them. I am not policing everyone’s actions for possible mistakes. But I am curious as to why admissions of flaws and saying you goofed up are seemingly as rare as a leap year — once every four years. So in honor of this year’s February 29, here is a deep dive into why a simple admission of being less than perfect is so extraordinarily rare — and what we can possibly do to reverse this alarming trend.
There is the outright denial of wrongdoing that used to be strictly the realm of children who ate the last cookie or forgot to take the dog for a walk. But it seems that more adults — and those in high places — are fabricating lies and pretending they are real. Some are even rewriting history.
What’s wrong is wrong no matter what the age of the wrongdoer. But why is perpetuating a wrong so prevalent?
Perhaps there is fear that the shame will be so deep no one can recover. A solution is to make apologies easier to make and accept. Perhaps we can all try to apply blanket forgiveness to anyone who admits they have done something wrong. We can offer possibilities for reconciliation and restitution. Maybe not 100 laps around the block, but something suited to the offense.
The second level of wrong I find reprehensible is the down-playing of an egregious act. Yes, it may have been only a slight fender bender or a scraped bumper, but acting indignant and saying, “Oh it’s nothing,” instead of “I am terribly sorry, my fault,” seems to be the way the world is shifting. And I am not up for that game.
How about we start practicing apologies and instead of projecting defensiveness and declaring the insult or injury to be meaningless, what about asking how the other person felt about the mistake.
“My fault! Are you OK?” That wasn’t so hard, was it?
I’ve been feeling the past few years like we have an urgent Crisis of Accountability that is showing up not just in the occasional parking lot fender bender, but in everyday acts in the workplace, in casual conversations, even in our closest relationships.
Someone interrupts you at work and makes it your fault for talking too long. Someone spills a beer on your couch and assures you it will blend in with the pattern. Your child foregoes on a promise and you are deemed the harsh one for remembering.
How about, “What can I do to make this up to you?” Or “Let me help make it better.” Perhaps we need to pass these phrases out on cards whenever someone runs away from direct admission of guilt.
For anyone who has waited in the cold for a friend who is late and announces her arrival not with profuse apologies but, “Traffic was terrible,” you know how it feels to be on the receiving end of an unacknowledged wrong. For anyone who has lent money to a relative who conveniently forgets to ever pay it back because they “just forgot” and “you don’t really need it,” you get what I’m saying here.
A thimble of empathy can go a long way toward assuaging ill will, so “I kept you waiting, sorry,” would be enough to erase the inconvenience. It seems that these are not forthcoming so much anymore.
Even, “I know I haven’t kept my promise, so I will change that,” is enough.
Of course, I am not saying I am above committing wrongs. I am a world-class wrongdoer and make errors in judgment on a regular basis. It’s just that I say so. And that is because I love the feeling of making good on my bad. I often even like to start the apology with “My bad.”
Not to be petty and lump the wrongs of nuclear war in with spelling someone’s name incorrectly, but I think we can all make a little effort to be mindful of who we inconvenience with our actions and words. I would really love that.Edit Module