Is there ever a time to say I’m sorry?
We begin the practice of apologizing when we are very young. Our parents encourage this, as do our teachers, our caregivers, our pastors and mentors. From the time we are toddlers it goes something like this:
We do or say something.
Someone experiences pain or discomfort in response to what we did.
We are confronted or admonished and told to apologize.
But does this really accomplish what it intends? Does it accomplish anything? Is it possible that “I’m sorry” only exists as a social norm and as a practice that never quite produces the result for which we hope or intend?
I am guilty of telling my children to apologize to each other. It’s quick, it’s relatively painless, it feels good and right. It’s almost compulsive at this point, “You hurt your sibling. Say sorry.” But I’ve been questioning this practice as of late. What is at the core of “I’m sorry”?
Our greatest desire and need as human beings is to be seen, heard and known, just as we are. This is how we feel connected and know that we belong. This requires us to be honest about who we are. And it requires us to be present for each other without criticism or judgement. We are born fully capable of both: honesty comes naturally when we are very young, love without judgement comes naturally when we are very young. It is the world that teaches us to hide and judge, not our DNA. So how does this relate to apologies?
You have experienced a pain point with a friend. Your friend’s actions or words triggered this pain. You speak, with honesty and vulnerability, from your core, and say to your friend: Whew, I feel (emotional) pain when you do that. Your friend’s eyes widen as they see you, hear you, know you, regard you: Ooohhh. I hear that. Wow. I didn’t know that caused you pain. I love you. I don’t want to cause you pain. I hear what you are saying. I can respond to what you are saying and do things differently. I feel guilt that what I did caused you pain. I feel some sadness and shame too. I never intended to cause you pain. Can I tell you what was happening for me with that?
Apologies are free. We can give them freely, unhesitatingly. But sometimes the apology rushes and misses the listening, the hearing, the seeing. And that is where the power of connection and healing lie.
What I am experiencing lately is that the more I slooow down and hear the heart behind someone’s words and actions, the more healing we both experience. And the more I feel heard when I convey my own heart, the less I desire, or even notice a need for, an apology.
I hear you. I see you. I know you. I regard you. I love you.
Perhaps we make a few of those the new magic words.