The Hardest Word: “Sorry…”

SorryIf you’ve ever been a parent then you know that part of the process of raising upstanding citizens is to teach good manners – the requisite “please” before asking for something, “thank you” when given something, and “I’m sorry” when in the wrong.  “Sorry” is the last to develop and the hardest to maintain.

Well, it’s not exactly hard to get the words out, especially when very young – little kids will say anything their parents tell them to say – it’s the authentic feeling behind the word that is slow to develop. A forced and mumbled “sorry…” from my older kids to each other, was code for: Who – me? – Mom thinks I’m the one who’s wrong?  Heck, no, I’m not taking the blame (and punishment) for this, since I’m not fully wrong and resent being forced into apologizing to you.

Sorry’ seems to be the hardest word, which starts in childhood and lasts right into adulthood.  How many adults still choke on admitting that they erred in some way? In our quest for certainty, we are hard wired to seach out a culprit to blame for every wrong, even if it’s the mysterious ‘they’. Or short of undefined ‘they made this happen’ – it falls on fate.  Bottom line is “It’s not my fault! (and so I’m not apologizing)”.

The brain craves certainty because uncertainty is an unstable state for the brain to be in, causing physical discomfort and pain, in the form of upset and anxiety.  Uncertainty leads to potential threat and danger, so certainty is sought to rule out the threat potential.  Here that certainty is in the form of blame; we are hard wired to close the uncertainty loop. “Who did this?”  “How did this happen?” – not me!

We learned early on that if one falls on one’s sword and ‘takes one for the team’ then with the blame comes the punishment… plus a bad reputation… which can hang with us for a long time… So there’s lots of social incentive not to be the one delivering the apology.

Now when you’re wrong, you do need to own it and apologize, especially when the wrongdoing was intentional.  But there’s a lot of gray area in many of life’s situations.  Maybe you were misunderstood.  Maybe it was partially your fault, but there’s the part that wasn’t your fault – why should you take the full blame?  Maybe you were trying to shield someone else from getting hurt and ended up with the errors pointing to you.  Maybe you trusted someone you shouldn’t have trusted, and now you end up paying the price.  The world is more often gray than it is black and white, with blame not clearly defined.

Then there are those people who apologize profusely and effusively, with nary a flinch.  They know that ‘sorry’ is just a vocabulary word like any other, and seem have no problem saying it at the drop of a hat, with little emotion attached. That quick ‘sorry’ comes bouncing off their lips without any qualms and with rapid fire repetition to the point of sometimes apologizing to inanimate objects they happen to bump into. Oops, sorry!  My bad… oh, you’re not human.

Or those poor souls that are in the ‘sorry’ habit loop – which is more accurately: sorry…sorry…sorry.  I had a friend like that in high school, with one sorry followed by 25 more.  Unfortunately the profuseness of this chain of sorrys was so tiresome that it drove all her friends crazy.  These sorry addicts aren’t able to stop apologizing, for anything and everything – their fault, not their fault, no matter, no stopping.

Here’s a perspective you may not have considered: ‘sorry’ is what people say when they don’t understand something.  That is, they don’t mean “I’m sorry for some error on my part, either physical or judgmental” but rather “Sorry?” as a statement meaning “I don’t think I heard or understood you. Please repeat or explain better.”

And when someone relates an unfortunate story that happen to them, in an effort to comfort, we often say “Sorry”, which here means, “I’m sorry that happened to you”.  But the response is commonly, “Oh you don’t have to be sorry, you had nothing to do with it” which is the wrong meaning of this ‘sorry’; the person is reaching for the blame sorry, which deep down they know is the wrong one.  Back to the ingrained reluctance to give a genuine ‘sorry’ – too many nuances, with the blame version being predominant.

So are you sorry?  Really?  Do you know why you’re sorry?  And do you really mean it?  So much easier to just leave that word alone, but then that might be to shirk deserved blame, which is blameworthy in itself.

Sorry to have brought the sorry subject up in the first place!

One comment on “The Hardest Word: “Sorry…”

  1. Sorry for the password problem 🙁

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