A friend of mine wrote this post entitled Nothing to be sorry for and it must have inspired me because my quick comment to him turned into a lengthy, but witty and reflective post here.
I have worked hard at this over the last year. Not that I was an abuser of the word sorry; I was never one to say sorry without truly meaning it. I always meant that I was sorry and that was my problem.
I’m talking more about being sorry for your actions and not the reactions of another. When someone does something unintentionally and it results in pain for another, when someone sets out to deliberately hurt another in a moment of weakness, when someone clearly shows empathy for something awful that has happened to someone else… those things require apologies.
"I am truly sorry. I did not know that you were allergic to garlic and I will try to remember that the next time I cook supper for us. Let’s dump this spaghetti and go for sushi instead! Yay!"
"I am sorry for being such an ass. I was pms-ing and, this morning, when you had a nice long hot shower, I resented it because I had to tend to the kids by myself without your help. So, this evening I felt I deserved an extra long hot bath, and even though I knew that you needed to use the washroom because of the chili I made for your lunch, I locked the door anyway. I’m an ass."
"Gosh, I am so sorry that your favourite hockey player broke his ankle and will be out for the rest of the season and this is going to cause you to lose your hockey pool. That’s really shitty."
But while the word sorry means "feeling or expressing sympathy, pity, or regret", it does not mean "owning someone else’s problem". That is what I have strived to overcome. In the past I tended to take responsibility for everyone else’s reactions and quite often made apologies for those people. That is not healthy. It’s the reaction to the action that is important to look at. If I did something or said something without intending to hurt someone else, but that someone else didn’t like it because of their own insecurities or issues… woah. I don’t own that. My saying sorry, in that case, means accepting their problem and making it my own.
"I did not intend to hurt you by not ironing your favourite shirt. I see that you are upset that you had to wear your second best shirt on the day of your interview, but perhaps you should look at why that hurt you in the first place. Did you tell me that you needed to wear that particular shirt this particular day? No, you didn’t. Maybe you should work on communicating more with me. And, sexy man, I am not sorry you had to wear your second best shirt. It is so totally awesome and makes you look smart and hot at the same time. Come over here… meow! And it’s not like you wore your grubby sweatshirt to that important interview. Don’t sweat the small stuff!"
"Oh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know you wanted to wear that shirt. From now on I will vow to make sure that all your shirts are ironed for whenever you need them. Okay? I promise. I am your slave, forever and I will make it my personal mission to ensure that you are taken care of (even though I’m sure you could learn how to turn on the iron yourself)."
It’s a tough thing, this living in this world. Bumping into one another while we fumble our way through life. When one pushes someone over, or accidentally step on someone’s toes or sees it happen to someone else, I’m thankful that we are an empathetic people who can learn from mistakes. But the most important thing to remember is when one repeats that action over and over again, they probably weren’t truly sorry in the first place.
A recent example of that would be this guy, who I haven’t talked to since December 8th. He phoned me on the 21st of December to say sorry for disappearing off the face of the earth. He expressed his regret, told me he’d call me in the morning so we could get together and talk more. I was hesitant, because I really didn’t think I’d ever hear from him again. And I had actually pretty much forgotten about him altogether so it was a shock to see his name come up as a caller. So I thanked him for phoning, I accepted his apology and I agreed to meet him. But because I didn’t fall at his feet for giving me the time of day finally, he didn’t call me the next day. Or the next. Or the next. I still haven’t heard from him, but I found out that he chose to do something else that day and didn’t think to give me a call to reschedule our plans. Imagine that. And that heartfelt apology he gave me? It meant nothing. He was not really sorry or he would have not done the same thing to me again the next day. I have no idea why he called that day at all, unless he was secretly fishing to see if his apology would smooth things over enough so he wouldn’t be alone on the holidays.
In the past, I probably would have forgiven him right away, not wanting to be alone over the holidays myself. Of course, the end result would be me burning my hand in the fire in front of me that I chose to ignore in the first place.
That’s a tough thing to admit.