I’m not really apologizing for anything, it is just that I have been thinking about the process of apologizing lately, and have had a few thoughts that are new – to me.
For me, personally, saying sorry is not a big deal. I have an abundance of practice, in part, because I do a lot of things that eventually require an apology, and secondly, I have learned that every relationship in my life is better if I am quick to recognize the need to apologize – and to act on it speedily.
I have known some people who would rather be boiled in oil before they would utter the simple phrase “I’m sorry.” (Over 40 years ago Elton John wrote a song called “Sorry seems to be the hardest word.”) I don’t know why it is so difficult for some people. Could be pride, could be fear, could be insecurity – I’m sure it is different for everyone. But for me, the willingness to say “I’m sorry,” is a gift, especially in marriage.
Like every other topic, there is a meme that deals with apologizing – this one attributed to John Wayne:
“Never apologize, mister, it’s a sign of weakness.”
What a stupid quote.
(I refused to believe John Wayne would say something so dumb, so I dug in and was glad to find out that it wasn’t really him: It was a line from character named Capt. Nathan Brittles that he played in the film, “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.”)
Even though misattributed, the quote is still dumb as a rock. A willingness to apologize takes a lot more strength than avoiding it.
Richard B. Miller, a Family Life professor from BYU, spoke about apologizing in marriage, and quoted Elder Joe J. Christensen in the process:
“In most cases we are married for only a short time before we hurt our spouse’s feelings. Whether it is intentional, based on selfishness, or just inadvertent mistakes, we all end up doing things that create hurt in our spouse.
The remedy is pretty straightforward. We say, “I’m sorry.” We feel badly that we hurt our spouse, apologize, learn from the experience, and do our best not to make the same mistake again. We repent, and, assuming that the problem wasn’t too major, the issue is over.
Elder Joe J. Christensen said, “To develop a solid marriage, we must be able to admit we are sorry for the mistakes we make. When conflicts in marriage arise, we should be swift to apologize and ask for forgiveness, even though we may not be totally at fault. True love is developed by those who are willing to readily admit personal mistakes and offenses.” (Link)
I like that Elder Christensen uses the word “swift,” because it connotes an urgency. The quicker the better. It mitigates damage, and can accelerate the healing process. The Lord seems to like it when we apologize and repent swiftly as well:
“And when thy people transgress, any of them, they may speedily repent and return unto thee… (D&C 109:21)
(And I would point out that the word “speedily” is a more fun than “swiftly.”)
BUT, apologies don’t count if they are not sincere.. Fake apologies only compound the problem.
In addition to fake apologies, other things can mess up what should be an honest, clear moment. For example:
“I’m sorry you got mad at me.” is not an apology – it is an accusation, classic blame-shifting to the other person.
“I’m sorry…but I was tired, sick, stressed, etc.” is not an apology either – it is a justification.
“I’m sorry if I messed up.” If? Wimpy. Own it!
“All right already! I’m Sorry! Can we be done now?!” Yeah. Truly heartfelt.
“You get over here and apologize right this instant!!!” Demanding an apology on our determined time and manner doesn’t make for very good apologies.
There are plenty of other bogus apologies, and they are much easier to recognize when we are on the receiving end of them. We can’t control if/how/when people apologize to us, we can only control how if/how/when we apologize to others.
I have had a small, odd thought about apologies bouncing around my head for the past few years that I have tried to incorporate into my vernacular. It came about from my experience with my ever-forgiving wife.
When I do something dumb, and apologize to her, the conversation goes something like this:
Me: “Honey, I’m sorry I said what I did and hurt your feelings. It was my fault, and I apologize.” (This is a direct quote from countless events spanning 33 years of marriage.)
Her response: “It’s okay.” or “It’s fine.”
Here’s the thing: It’s NOT okay, and it’s NOT fine. I would rather she not tell me that.
If my kid backs a car into a pole and damages it, he can apologize, but it doesn’t make things “fine.” Does it? Or does it condone and/or lessen the seriousness of the offense?
What I have started to say, and prefer hearing when someone apologizes is this:
Apology: “I’m sorry.”
Response: “Thank you.”
or, “I appreciate it.”
or, “Apology accepted.”
or even, “I forgive you.”
Because just saying “Sorry” does not always make it “fine.” Sometimes it is just the starting point on the road to resolution. But “I forgive you” can be definitive.
Am I getting caught up in semantics? Perhaps, but I am more comfortable with the subtle change in how I respond to apologies.
Sometimes we find ourselves in a place where we don’t see any reason to apologize to someone – because we don’t think we have done anything wrong. I have learned from experience that there is always something we can apologize for. For example:
When I was a Bishop, there were times when people wanted to revoke their sustaining vote. It happens. In one instance, a sister was super mad at something I had said to her – something I felt was correct. She was furious, and a wall went up between us. I worried and prayed, and the thought came to me, “Apologize.”
For what? I thought. I was right! But the more I thought, I found that the Spirit was right, and let me know what I did wrong. I invited the Sister to come to my office and offered a sincere apology:
“Sister, I know you are mad at me, but I do want to take a minute and apologize to you for the way I spoke to you when I addressed the issue. I could have, and should have, been more careful with my tone and the way I spoke to you. I can’t apologize for what I said, but please forgive me for how I said it.”
The wall came down, the dialogue started, and the relationship was mended. There are times now that when I am at loggerheads with someone that I will search for something I can honestly apologize for. I can usually find it, and it is usually an effective ice-breaker.
Apologizing needs to be a part of our lives. It is part of the essential repentance process that triggers the blessings of the Atonement to cleanse and enhance our lives. We can’t survive spiritually without it, and we can’t find happiness here without it, and we won’t end up where we want to be eternally without it.
Sorry this ran a little longer than I thought…wait – I take that back. I’m not sorry at all.