I’m trying something new today. It’s been a minute since I last posted, and I needed some inspiration. Today’s theme was the word “apology.”
I remember back when I was about 6 or 7 how my parents would always say, “You need to apologize to your brother,” for some rude thing I had done to him. For a while, I did what they said and apologized. It was never heartfelt, though. I remember sitting and thinking one day about the meaning behind an apology, what their purpose was in getting me to say the words, “I’m sorry.” I must have been about 8 years old when I told my parents that I didn’t think it was right that they made me apologize, especially if I didn’t mean it. I told them that I didn’t think I should be forced to say something I didn’t mean, and wouldn’t it be more meaningful if I said it on my own?
They listened, but they didn’t change their ways. So, inevitably, I kept apologizing in vain.
When I was a preschool teacher, that was one of my biggest pet peeves: other teachers telling kids to apologize. I made it a point not to do that and to try different approaches. I always find it hilarious when I ask kids, “What does ‘I’m sorry’ mean?” The last one I asked was a 2-year-old. His response: “Um, I’m sorry means that you…um…well, I’m sorry means I love you. It’s just another way to say it.”
In a way, sure, apologies can mean that you love someone. I think the intent in making people apologize is to get them to feel remorse or shame for an action, to take ownership of it, and to vow not to do it again. That’s a lot to force on someone, imo.
For some reason, though, apologies are comforting to a lot of people. I hear a lot of people say things like: It would be different if s/he at least apologized; I wouldn’t be so hurt if s/he said sorry…etc. Even in adulthood, so many of us try to convince ourselves of similar untruths. Well, maybe it’s essentialist of me to call it an untruth; I recognize that for some people an apology really can change a situation. But I’m reminded of this quote I read on tumblr once:
-Would ‘sorry’ have made any difference? Does it ever? It’s just a word. One word against a thousand actions.
I can’t recall the author of this quote, but it’s really stuck with me. It brings to mind relationships where I thought that an apology would fix things. I’m reminded of my last breakup and how I wanted so desperately to believe that the intent behind those words was genuine, despite knowing that it wasn’t.
I think we want apologies because it puts us back in good-standing with others. We want to be liked, we don’t want to hurt. Apologies are like word-band aids – they may not fix the wound, but on the surface it might make us feel a little better…knowing that if we leave it alone for long enough, things will go back to normal.
Apologies really don’t make things better or “normal,” unless there is serious and consistent action behind the words. Too often, this isn’t the case. People throw around phrases like, “I’m sorry,” because they’re a quick-fix. They lead people to ignore or forgive your wrongdoing and keep things moving.
I do wish that people took their words more seriously. If people paid as much attention to their apologies and subsequent actions as they do “likes” on social media, I think there would be a lot less hurt. Thinking about all of the stories I’ve heard of people who believed apologies only to be let down, it’s really sad. It reminds me of broken hearts in romantic relationships, but also of hurts from parents, grandparents, uncles/aunts. People wave away their responsibilities and are excused from accountability with a phrase like, “I’m sorry.” Maybe if they paid a little more attention to what they’re actually saying/implying with those words, things would be different…but then again, maybe they wouldn’t.