One sister stared at the other. Their mutual frustration was etched on their faces. “Well, I am sorry if your feelings are hurt, but I have no intention of changing my mind!” Sorry… not sorry.
When trying to explain to the technician that the work he had done on my computer had actually made it slower and less able to handle my workload, he replied with irritation, “Sorry, but you have to understand that I don’t have time to fix every little problem.” Sorry, not sorry.
Anthony Weiner apologized to the nation the first time he was caught. The second time he was caught, he apologized to his family and followers during his Mayoral race in NYC. This third time, he has been quiet. Sorry, not sorry.
An employee was found to be using the internet inappropriately at work. When approached, he gushed, “I am so sorry, I guess I just didn’t realize I was spending as much time on the web as I really was. It won’t happen again!” Two months later, after he was escorted from the building following a swift dismissal, the company found a dizzying array of pornography and other grossly inappropriate material on his work computer. Sorry, not sorry.
“Sorry” has become a thinly veiled ruse, a word that we throw into the air in hopes that it will buy us time to slither past the transgression. We pop it into sentences to somehow indicate that we have empathy, when we clearly don’t. We use it as an excuse, a diversion, a ready-made convenience food to feed an empty conversation. It means nothing.
It is a weird little word that shows up when other words are clearly more accurate and appropriate. It is wrongly used when ‘excuse me’ is the more suitable term (Envision a man and woman trying to exit an elevator. The man presses forward quickly, knocking her briefcase. “Sorry” she says, with a look of concern. What is she sorry for?).
When using the term, it would be useful to clarify if: 1. I feel badly about what I have done and this remorse compels me to (a) make amends or (b) change my behavior. Or, (2) I am not sorry about the deed, but rather, sorry about being caught.
As for “I apologize”, just throw it out. What a complete non-comment. If one cannot clearly articulate the act for which one is filled with regret or remorse, and then cannot take responsibility and offer a change, then why apologize?
While it is a pipedream, I would love to see a world where “I am sorry” carried some weight. Where its meaning was potentially a signal that the person speaking did, indeed, feel a sense of responsibility, remorse and both a desire and commitment to change.
The art of a true apology then, might look like this:
- If you are not actually sorry, then don’t use the word.
- Stop apologizing for things you needn’t be sorry for – it dilutes both the meaning and your self-esteem.
- If you are sorry – then put it into actual words: “I am sorry that I let you down by forgetting about our meeting. It was poor management on my part. I will take the necessary steps to improve my scheduling and make sure this doesn’t happen again.
- Then, DO IT. Don’t tell people you are going to change, improve, make amends, etc. unless you are actually going to do it. If you don’t follow through, you destroy trust – both between you and the other person, and more importantly, in yourself.
We all make mistakes, hurt people’s feelings and rack up transgressions on a regular basis. We are human and fragile and complex. It is inevitable that we will do things for which we are truly sorry and wish to change our ways. For these times, “I am sorry” can effectively begin a healing process and improve relationships. I, for one, will work to keep this simple statement true and pristine – to protect its meaning and invoke it only when it is sincere. For all other times, I will try to be clear – “sorry, not sorry!”