I'm Sorry

About two months into my freshman year at college I was sitting at the breakfast table one morning. Someone else was there, I don’t remember who, because we were both silently trying to stay awake during breakfast.

Soon Deb came and sat with us. It was a very small school, so everyone knew everyone, but we weren’t close. We all exchanged pleasantries and then the other person said

“How was your doctor’s appointment, Deb?”

“Fine I guess, we did a bunch of tests, and I don’t have the results back yet” she said.

As a joke I said “Are you going to die?”

She sat quietly for few seconds and said “Maybe” and got up and moved to another table.

Ohhhhh man. I felt so low I could have walked under a snake without bending over. Wow.

We went to the same class just a few minutes later. In class I wrote her a note, old school style. I told her that what I’d said was really insensitive and thoughtless, and I was very sorry. I asked her to forgive me. Then I folded it really small and had my classmates pass it to her. Old school style.

Knowing her as I did I expected a “Thanks” and little more. She didn’t owe me anything.

After class she came to me in tears. No-one had ever apologized to her for anything before. Not for real. I had hurt her, but because of the way I handled it SHE was grateful to ME!

This blew my mind a little bit. I felt like I had done something so small in apologizing. Truly, a little note felt like the bare minimum, but what an impact!

That’s when I learned what a big deal it is for people when someone who hurt them is truly apologetic and compassionate. It really heals.

One thought on “The Power Of A Sincere Apology

  1. Apologies are so rare. The true apologies.

    There’s a saying in Hindi that ‘The British have left but they left behind this word called sorry’. Hindi and most other Indian languages I know do not have a word for ‘sorry’. So the saying points out that people often say sorry and expect that to completely erase whatever happened before that. There is rarely any acknowledgement of the other person’s feelings, let alone the willingness to stand witness to that, even if it is uncomfortable to one.

    I remember going through a program by the Landmark Forum which spoke about making things okay. They’d point out how saying sorry wasn’t enough. There were several steps involved in making things okay. 1. Acknowledge that something went wrong/ you did something wrong. 2. Recognise that it hurt the other person. 3. Take responsibility for the situation. 4. Ask how you can regain their trust/ make them feel better/ support them.

    The Landmark Forum uses a decidedly American approach to things – process, straightforward (linear) communication. It doesn’t necessarily work in Indian contexts as by culture and language, we tend to express things in non-verbal cues, socially accepted unspoken rituals and emotive words. So I’ve now started saying, “I am sorry for what I said/did. I was thinking of X only. I realised later that you might feel Y (or it might also impact Z). You deserve better than that. I am sorry.” and if they say it is okay, I ask how I can make things better. Often, people here say “No need. Forget it.” So I try and do something else later where they tell me there’s no need and I say, “Thank you but it is important to me that I show you I mean I’m sorry.” It is a lot more laborious than ‘sorry’ so I choose when I do this. And it means I’m unapologetic about a lot of other things – stronger boundaries for me but not very likeable for others.

    You demonstrate to me time and again how to be a space where even these steps are not needed because it feels as though healing is happening immediately just by smiling your way. I am very grateful.

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