Posted by: dacalu | 10 November 2019

Sorry / Not Sorry

Words can be used strategically. Living as we do in a time of verbal warfare, I look for words that deescalate, words that bring peace and connection, words that build relationship. Far too often I default to the phrases taught me by society without thinking carefully about the effects they have. With that in mind, here are few thoughts on the word “sorry.”

I try to say “sorry” only when I am.

I say I’m sorry when I feel genuine sadness that something has occurred, regret at my role in it, and have rethought my action. If I am truly sorry then I would not make the same choice again. This constitutes a meaningful apology.

I avoid the word when I can’t say these things..

I could say that I’m sorry for someone. Something bad has happened to them – outside of my control – and I feel sad because of it. That is genuine sorrow, but I’m not sure it is helpful. I would much rather be sorry with someone.

Brené Brown promotes empathy over sympathy, allowing yourself into their situation and their emotion instead of judging it. To say that I’m sorry for someone or about someone turns me into an observer. I want to be a companion.

To express sorrow at someone’s response becomes an attack, an escalation. “I’m sorry you feel that way.” It expresses sorrow over my situation, not theirs. It sends the message that I am sad because of their action and would change that if I could.

I also avoid saying “I’m sorry” when I could say “thank you.” In place of “I’m sorry I’m late,” I try to say, “thank you for waiting.” I may be truly sorry, but I’m also truly grateful. I care as much about their virtues as I do about my faults. It seems kind to communicate that.

I value repentance – genuine reconsideration and personal change. I also value forgiveness – genuine release from obligation and hope for reconciliation. One does not require the other, but it makes it so much easier. A truthful “I’m sorry” can make reconciliation possible when nothing else can. We need this word. We need this idea that mistakes can be corrected.

We need “I’m sorry” to do that work – to convey sorrow, regret, and repentance. If we use it too often, it loses its power. If I say it when I don’t mean it, what will I say when I do?


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