What's The Big Deal About Apologizing?
Last weekend, my boyfriend and I got into an intense discussion about our communication styles. They’re vastly different, and I was trying desperately not to criticize his methods, but let him know that I wasn’t understanding, and it was hurting my feelings pretty badly. After much going back and forth, he finally said, “I just don’t know what you want me to say.”
“I just want you to say that you're sorry,” I said.
I’ll spare you the uninteresting details of what ensued after this comment, because this isn't about relationship communication, this is about saying sorry.
I started wondering why it mattered to me so much. Why, in any situation, was “sorry” so important to hear? And I’m not talking about the kind of sorry that only consists of the phonetics and vocal cord movements. I’m talking about the kind of sorry that has emotion behind it. Why was that kind of “sorry” even a thing? Where did it come from and why did we say it?
I didn’t do any research for the history or origins, but I knew it was more than just a politesse. It had to be, because it mattered to people. Because it changed things. “I’m sorry” —when it was meant—changed things. So what was it about saying “I’m sorry” that was so important.
We say sorry when we’ve hurt someone, yes, but even when we haven’t hurt anyone, but someone is hurting anyway. If someone experiences loss, we say “I’m sorry”. If we make a mistake at someone else’s expense, we say, “I’m sorry.” If we bump into someone or encroach on another person’s personal space, we say, “I’m sorry.”
Because “I’m sorry” is a beautiful short-hand for “In this moment, I am thinking of you instead of me.” And in a world made up of selfish-beings, to think of someone before yourself is almost the ultimate sacrifice, the highest level of submission. In the moments that we apologize sincerely, we are—even if just for a second—acknowledging and crediting the feelings of another person besides ourselves. We are affirming that what they are feeling is real and that we understand. When we apologize, we aren’t just saying “I’m sorry”, we’re saying “I hear you. I understand you,” and these are two things our souls need to survive. To be heard, to be understood, these are irreplaceable, invaluable things.
This is why it’s incredibly important to apologize. Apologies are not admittances of wrong doing. They are not forfeits or signs of weakness. They are signs of immense strength and courage, in fact, because he who puts another before himself is the strongest of them all.
Say sorry, and mean it. But on the flip side, receive sorry. Allow someone to apologize, and don’t just say, “it’s okay”. Say, “thank you” or “I appreciate/accept your apology.” Because that shit can be hard to say. So say it and accept it. It’s so very important.