The Importance of Saying I’m Sorry, and How to Make it a Bit Easier

I recently watched a friend do something stupid to another friend, but friend #1, clearly in the wrong, won’t apologize.

I’ve been there. I’m married with kids, a former pastor and business owner, surrounded by opportunities to screw up, rarely feeling like I should apologize when I do. But I’ve never sat down and pondered on why apologizing is so hard – why us ‘Mericans do it so infrequently; why, so many times, we’ll let a relationship end before we’ll say our “sorrys.”

It’s not because we don’t know how to make an apology.

We hate apologizing because it hurts to feel “wrong.” We need to feel “right,” like we’re one of the few good people in the world. That’s why we’re living with so much political anger – it’s not about the issues, or the candidates, our anger is about us feeling like our side is right and the other side’s wrong.

If feels good, especially for people who typically feel bad about themselves. I”m in that boat. I’ve met few who aren’t.

I’d say that our need to feel right is so strong that it scares us to admit when we’re not. It’s frightening to be vulnerable, to let people see our weakness – our dark side(s).

We frequently say that pride gets in the way of a good apology, but I think fear is the culprit. We don’t apologize because we’re scared – we lack the courage to do the right thing when we’ve screwed up, so we don’t.

So we sit back and soak in all of the wonderful things that come part and parcel with refusing to apologize: crappy relationships, isolation, guilt – and because we’ve chosen to let fear drive the bus…

…more fear.

Understandably, saying “I’m sorry” rarely feels good – the “right” thing to do. It feels better to put the onus for reconciliation on the other person, pouting in the corner like a three year old until they come our way.

I can attest however that most of my apologies have felt “right” after I’ve made them, not before.

Sure, I’ve apologized when I shouldn’t have just to get out of trouble, which is more of a lie than an apology. I’ve had plenty of moments where I’ve said “I’m sorry, but…” which isn’t an apology. But, more times than not, on the occasions where I’ve managed to muster the courage to say “sorry,” I haven’t regretted it.

I’ve also found that, the more I apologize, the less afraid I am of apologizing, and of being wrong. I’m also more aware of the fact that I’ve never not known how to make an apology.

I recently got into a heated political discussion with a friend who doesn’t think like I do. We went back and forth as the discussion got more and more heated. Insults were ultimately traded and we went to bed that night furious at each other. The next morning, I apologized for my part and waited for him to do the same. He did the opposite, lashing out at me for my behavior.

I’m far enough along in this game to know that when there’s anger, there’s actually a ton of hurt driving it. I could get mad at my friend for not reciprocating my apology (and I have – still dealing with it), or I could get present to the damage I did, the hurt I caused, and try to make it right. But that would make me wrong, and I don’t like being wrong.

But that’s because I’m scared. And I don’t like how fear works – the more I give in to it, the more it runs my life.

So I try, whenever I can muster the courage, to apologize. And I’ve come to learn that, when apologizing doesn’t feel like the “right” thing to do, that’s the best sign that it is.

I’m also more aware of the damage that refusing to say “sorry” does.

There’s not a person on the planet that doesn’t want to live a good life, but the best life is fraught with difficulty, requiring the kind of strength and courage that can only be found in episodes that require strength and courage.

If we refuse to step into the “sorry” arena, scary as it is, we’re sounding a barbaric “no” to solid, deep, meaningful, life-saving relationships. Without these, there is no good life.

So, understanding that I have my own struggles here, I invite you to take an inventory of all the times you’ve apologized in the past 6 months. Not “I’m sorry but….” kind of apologies. Take an inventory of the times you owned the pain you caused, requiring nothing of the other person, making no excuses whatsoever.

If you’ve gone 180 days without saying “sorry” to anyone, it might be that fear is running your life, or that you’ve distanced yourself from close relationships, or both. Either way, a lack of apologies is a sure sign of trouble.

If that rings true for you, take another inventory – where is there trouble? Where do you need to apologize? Is there tension between you and someone else? Have you been confronted or accused? Has it been festering for awhile? If you’re not sure how to move forward, pull the offended party(ies) aside and ask them for their perspective on the issue – and listen, really hard – summon all the listening courage you can, close your mouth and let them talk.

If you can’t apologize in the moment, ask them if it’s OK for you to take some time and think. Go and grab someone in your life that’s good at adulting, relate the story to them, give them some authority, listen, submit to their authority (much as we hate that word), and move forward.

Apologizing will probably feel great, but only after you’ve done it. It’s a crappy truth, but if you’re seeking an un-crappy life, it’s the only way forward.

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