This past spring I had the chance to see the musical Six about the six wives of Henry VIII. The show was amazing! It was like a rock concert but the headliners were the six wives who sang about their lives with Henry. Each wife was more talented than the other. One of the songs is titled, “Don’t Lose Your Head,” which, you have to admit, is pretty cheeky for a wife of Henry VIII. In the chorus of the song, Anne Boleyn sings:
… Sorry, not sorry 'bout what I said
I'm just tryna have some fun
Don't worry, don't worry, don't lose your head
I didn't mean to hurt anyone
LOL, say oh well
Or go to hell
I'm sorry, not sorry 'bout what I said
Don't lose your head
Though it was entertaining and appropriate in Six, if I’m being honest, I am not a fan of the phrase, “Sorry, not sorry.” I find it to be offensive and slightly immature. To me, it is an expression of someone who has been hurt and is trying to hurt someone else. As an adult, I hope to be able to express my hurt without intentionally hurting someone else.
These two words, “I’m sorry,” have become the topic of much conversation recently. I’ve read about and heard people–particularly women–say they are done saying “I’m sorry.” A quick example of this can be seen in the Pantene commercial showing women saying, “I’m sorry,” as a matter of course though there was literally nothing to apologize for.
So we’re all on the same page, an apology is a formal or informal statement or expression of regret, remorse, or sorrow for an action, behavior, or decision that has caused harm, inconvenience, or offense to another person or a group of people. Apologies are a way of acknowledging one's responsibility for a mistake, showing empathy for the feelings of the affected party, and seeking to make amends or offer reassurance that the mistake will not be repeated. While "I'm sorry" is a common and direct way to express remorse and acknowledge a mistake, apologies technically do not require using the words, “I’m sorry.” In fact, we have all been disappointed by an insincere apology that used the words, “I’m sorry,” but did not mean it. Thus, what's most important in an apology is the genuine expression of regret and acceptance of responsibility for the wrongdoing.
With all of this in mind, I want to say unequivocally, that I fully support not saying, “I’m sorry” when there is nothing to be sorry about.
I also want to say unequivocally, I think we need to remember two essential truths.
Have you ever heard that Eskimos have dozens of synonyms for the word snow? In the post, “Do Inuits really have 50 words for snow?” Laura Kelly explains there is some truth to this myth. We have the opposite relationship with “I’m sorry.” Rather than having a multitude of two-word phrases to express how we’re feeling, we lump them all up into “I’m sorry,” and call it a day. Then we feel apologetic for using words to apologize for situations that require no apology.
The first truth, then, is when we say “I’m sorry,” it may have nothing to do with apologizing. This is not because we are being insincere, it's because these words may have nothing to do with regret and remorse.
Below are twenty ways to use the phrase, "I'm sorry." You'll notice not one of these is an apology. While you could argue there is no need to say, “I’m sorry,” in any of these instances, it is grammatically and syntactically acceptable to include, “I’m sorry,” in any of these contexts.
The second truth is that our language is not robust enough to succinctly communicate the emotional connection (i.e., empathy), that is often conveyed in these two simple words. For example, I have a friend who was feeling overwhelmed at work. I listened to my friend and felt honored to be a trusted ear. One of my responses to my friend was, “I’m so sorry.”
My friend asked, “Why are you sorry? You’ve done nothing wrong.”
“I know,” I said. “But it’s too much to say, ‘This is awful and it sucks that this is happening to you. I want you to know I see you and your humanity in this moment. From one human to another, I just need to say what you’re experiencing is not okay and you deserve better.’ Unfortunately, our language doesn’t have a simple way of saying all of this.”
In short, apologies require more than saying, “I’m sorry.” Nevertheless, “I’m sorry” can mean more than an apology. While I do not think any of us should say “I’m sorry,” in the way the women in the first half of the Pantene commercial said it, I will never apologize for saying, “I’m sorry,” to someone who is hurting, when I’ve made a mistake, or when I want to apologize. So, I’m sorry, but I won’t give up saying, “I’m sorry.”
P.S. I can't do a post about apologies without shining a spotlight on a wonderful book called, "I'm Sorry Story," written by Melody McAllister, a fellow EduMatch author.
The book focuses on a boy named Ryan who sits by himself at lunch. He feels like everyone around him has close friends but he feels alone. He wants good friends and he wants to be accepted by his classmates, but he isn't sure how to make that happen. Join him as he learns to put others first and make things right when he has been wrong!
P.P.S. Please remember to...
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