It is time we rethink our ideas on saying “I’m sorry”
This question came up recently in conversation and it really made me think. A recent experience didn’t immediately come to mind, but I also couldn’t think of the last time someone apologized to me. I can certainly think of the people I know who refuse to apologize and how that impacts their relationships. Out of curiosity I asked several friends if they remembered their last apology; several did, but many didn’t. There is still a fairly prevelant feeling that apologizing is showing weakness. Never apologize. If someone doesn’t like your behavior, that is on them.
I tend to disagree. Owning an apology is one of the more powerful relationship building behaviors you can have. And I should clarify here, I’m not talking about the flippant apology for the sake of apologizing or a canned public relations statement. I’m getting at a genuine, heartfelt, and meaningful apology when you realized you made a mistake. Your willingness to apologize shows several important character traits:
This is probably the hardest part. I often hurt people without actually realizing I had done so. Which is normal I guess … after all, if I realized it ahead of time I probably wouldn’t have done it. Then the challenge is, once it is pointed out, can you step back enough to know that you screwed up? We all have behaved in ways that hurt other people. Obviously, no one is perfect. But not everyone can acknowledge when they made a mistake. Without that recognition, the apology doesn’t work, it isn’t genuine.
Lashing out at others when they are mad at you is an immature response. As Benjamin Franklin said, “never ruin an apology with an excuse.” Passing blame on to someone else or making an excuse is easy. The really hard thing to do is accept the fact you made a mistake and the full responsibility that comes along with that.
Putting the words “I’m sorry” into the world requires a level of vulnerability most of us aren’t comfortable with. You don’t know how the listener is going to respond and you have no control. It requires a leap of faith to ask for forgiveness, to face the uncertainty. You have to overcome feelings of weakness, failure, embarrassment and guilt with no promise of openness in return. While it feels like extreme weakness … the willingness to make things right proves real strength.
Owning up to your own mistakes is a critical way to learn from them. I have made (and continue to make) plenty of mistakes, and I have learned a few lessons along the way. When we are forced to take responsibility for our actions, we learn from the experience. It is rarely easy and almost never pleasant, but teaches us what to avoid in the future.
In the very nature of it, an apology shows you care about the feelings of another person. First, you have to be willing to see a situation from someone else’s perspective. Then, whatever happened bothers you enough to face all of these challenges to make it right. The focus then is on compassion for the other party, not concern for yourself.
I think the time has passed where we refuse to apologize for fear of showing weakness. Owning our mistakes and facing the people we hurt is a sign of true strength.
Photo Credit: flickr/maroonsurreal