Everyone uses the phrase I’m sorry. It exists in every language and has multiple, if not infinite, applications. Two words that you may be saying everyday to those around you… possibly yourself. But with overuse, as is the case with many things… this simple phrase can often loose its impact.
In social settings I’m sorry is a way to extend courtesy to another. It is a way to demonstrate that you are not trying to inconvenience someone. For instance, when you push past a person at the market it is a way of acknowledging that you are temporarily intruding into their personal space. If you bump into a pedestrian while rounding a street corner… if you accidentally spill a glass at a table… if you fart. The phrase acknowledges an intrusion and demonstrates your awareness and compassion for another. But… when it is used in matters of importance this phrase must have more substance surrounding it so that its impact can be fully experienced.
Saying I’m sorry in moments when things are challenging, stressful, upsetting, or in some other way significant only lands properly when it is imbedded in compassion (respect shown in the interest of honoring another or oneself). Actions speak louder than words, but when actions lack compassion they lack the ability to move a situation forward. Without knowing the compassionate reasons for offering your apology the words are muddled with ignorance and are not enough to move you to change your behaviors in lasting and meaningful ways. The apology is a polite formality… not a declaration of compassion and any real intent to change.
So…. in order for the phrase to reclaim its integrity consider the following:
- Stay Curious. When offering your apology always… ALWAYS choose to be curious as to why you are remorseful. Do everything in your power to ask another why they’re upset. Be hungry and ambitious about discovering what it is that is important and emotionally charged about this thing for them. Learning someone’s why about a situation is often a change creator because it gives context for your empathy and allows you to accommodate for them out of a fuller understanding.
- Lessen the number of times you repeat yourself. We are not always perfect… In fact we are at our best embracing that we are lifelong learners. As such we may not always get it right the first time around. It may take several if not many trials to really learn how to differentiate your behavior from being reactionary to being decisive. No matter. The path of reflection is endless and so long as you choose to learn from your mistakes and at least try to improve as a result… then you will, over time, be improving. I often tell clients that it is our approximations of success that equate our success. We aren’t always going to hit a home run, but we can do our best and we can always learn from our past and current experiences. If you find yourself saying I’m sorry too often pull back and identify what you are doing to repeatedly land in places of regret. Then… look at how you can change or replace that behavior so that you land in places of peace and acceptance more often.
- Practice kindness. It behooves you to be kind and here is why. Kindness is just so easy. It’s free, positively reinforcing, and provides you with so many surprises. Being nice to people is inspiring and manifests positivity. When you are kind you quite literally create more for yourself and you do so in ways that you may not have ever imagined. Kindness may land you a free dessert from a waiter at a restaurant, it may benefit you with a discount from a service provider, and it could even gift you with love and friendship. Best of all kind actions do not require an apology.
Be sorry… say sorry…. do it as much as you want and need. But… be sure to do it with intention, with compassion, and the hunger for knowing the recipients why about the situation. Let the act of an apology grow you as a person. Let it deepen your connection to the needs of people you care about and to the world around you. Let it make you better. From that place it is a defusing and forward moving declaration that can really change your life.
Peace and love,
Teo Weiner, M.A. is America’s Teacher. He is an author and educator and has a private practice as a Co-Active life coach with over 100 hours of CTI coaches training and over 16 years of experience coaching teens and adults about how to create and sustain life change. Teo is available for hire. More information can be found on http://www.doubleshotcoaching.com.