I’m Sorry – Or Am I?

I’m sorry is the stereotypical Canadian response the world expects from me. Someone steps on my foot, and I’m the first to say I’m sorry. Then I laugh at myself.

I wondered why I did that and realized it was more complicated than I first thought.

‘National Sorry Day’ is a day in Australia marking a step in the country’s relationship with the Indigenous people.

Sorry is such a powerful word that can mean several things.

‘Sorry for your loss’ is often an expression of compassion. I don’t blame myself for another’s loss of a loved one, but I do want to say I care about you during a difficult time.

‘Sorry if I caused you any upset,’ tells me the speakers have little understanding or willingness to accept responsibility for what they did. It is too general and conditional.

‘Sorry I’m late.’ This has genuine meaning if it is a rare event. However, suppose a person rarely arrives on time and has a reputation for keeping others waiting. In that case, I’d prefer the person just arrives. The apology is a lame acknowledgement, otherwise without meaning.

As older adults, we can take the high road and model a proper apology. We have life experience behind us. We’ve been on the receiving end of genuine and also meaningless apologies. We know what each feels like.

A true ‘I’m sorry’ should be brief, to the point, and specific with a commitment to be different in the future.

It should be spoken in front of the same witnesses present when the words or deed occurred.  I confess I have failed several times doing this. I didn’t have the strength to apologize, other than in private with the person I offended. I regret that weakness.

So, please give this a bit of a think. Think of a past apology you made that you are proud of how you delivered it. What elements of your apology are you proud of? Flipping the coin, what are your thoughts of a missed apology or an inadequate apology?

I’m curious about your thoughts. Please leave your comment.

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4 thoughts on “I’m Sorry – Or Am I?

  1. Patti Dolman says:

    My daughter recently announced that I’m guilty of never saying sorry!
    But I do ….. I think I do. Then I remembered an apology that I made to my SIL in an email and I had proof. In Judaism just before Yom Kippur all Jews are expected to not only say sorry for any transgressions but to ask for forgiveness. Sometimes forgiving is more difficult than the “sorry “.
    Recently a student was chastised online for not following another teacher’s instructions, but it was my fault for giving conflicting information. I owned up so that the student wasn’t left taking the blame. No big deal but I think it’s important for children, no matter what the age, to see what taking ownership looks like. Admitting a mistake is part of character development.

    • glenn says:

      It takes courage and we need practice. Not succeeding doesn’t mean we can’t try again. Thanks. I’ll give it a bit of a think.

    • Barb Riley says:

      great sharing. I agree that it is so important for children (no matter what age) to hear us say I am sorry, but also “I forgive you”.

  2. Gail says:

    It’s funny you should bring this up because it was on my mind recently. I was thinking about some of the difficult to answer essay topics that I had to do in university (back in the 80s). This was one of them! I think it was for an English or psychology course. The professor asked us to write a paper on what we thought about “sorry” and “apologize.” He asked us to write subjectively and state whether we thought these words were synonymous or different and why. It seemed like an easy enough question to answer but as I recall, it wasn’t all that easy.

    I can relate to what you’re saying because just recently I was faced with a “sorry” situation. My friend recently had knee replacement surgery. She was in a fair bit of pain but managed to deal with it. On a daily basis she’d fill me in on her progress and set backs. On one particularly bad day she texted that she was in lot of pain. I said “I’m sorry you’re in pain.” Her response
    was “You don’t have to say sorry,” as if to say ‘you didn’t cause the pain.’ “Why should you feel sorry?’ This wasn’t the only time she’d mention this.

    Since then I’ve stopped myself from using those two not so perfect choice of words when I’m speaking to her (not others). So I usually say something along the lines of ‘Oh no. Or That sucks.’ Don’t think I’m not thinking about saying “I’m sorry” – it’s literally on the tip of my tongue! But I hold back. It’s all good ’cause I know she appreciates that I care. That’s what counts.

    Sorry has to be one of the most over-used words in Canada – maybe in the States too (I’m not sure). It’s certainly a part of the Canadian culture. Maybe we inherited a certain innate “sorriness” from our British ancestors because they tend to say sorry a LOT!

    We’re definitely a “sorry bunch” in my observation. We say the sorry word so often when it’s totally unnecessary. I’ve experienced countless situations where it’s been so over used, it’s almost awkward.

    Why are we so sorry all the time?! Are we trying to dodge confrontation or are we just so full of fear – fear of offending someone? So, we say it to be safe. How many times have you been in a situation where the other person does something not so nice and “you” say sorry? I’ve caught myself saying it so many times. I like your example of someone stepping on your foot and you say “Sorry!”

    And it makes me wonder how many people who say “sorry” actually mean it or are they so programed to say it out of politeness or expectation?

    Don’t get me wrong. Apologizing has its place. Saying sorry is one of the first things we teach young children. Unfortunately, it’s not something that adults are so good at. When it comes to apologizing for something we may have done or said to hurt someone many of us hold back. I believe that if we hurt someone in any way, we must apologize as soon as possible.
    This was another great blog Glenn!
    Sorry this was such a long response. (lol)


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