I do some pretty stupid shit from time to time. I regularly make acceptable mistakes. In each instance, more often than not, I apologise for what I’ve done wrong.
When I was in Finland, a buddy of mine once asked me why I apologise so often. What he was referring to was how I use “sorry” instead of “excuse me”. When I mishear someone, instead of asking, “Pardon me?” I’ll ask, “Sorry?” If I need to get passed someone, I’ll say, “Sorry,” instead of, “Excuse me.” When I think that I’ve hurt or upset someone, I’ll say, “I’m sorry.”
One thing that I’ve been working on is avoiding actions and behaviours that’ll lead to me needing to apologise. Eventually, an apology isn’t enough to receive forgiveness.
When students apologise for their behaviours, I often respond by telling them that while I appreciate their apology, I don’t need one. What I’m looking for is a change in behaviour. I expect them to make mistakes and I’d like for them to learn from them instead of pay some sort of penance.
I can’t say this to other adults. I expect adults to be more self-aware than children. From adults, I expect an apology for mistaken or unfounded actions and behaviour.
I think that saying, “Sorry,” is a polite way to show sympathy. It’s an empathetic response to a situation in which one of the parties involved is in some way troubled. “Sorry” is not a belittling or undermining thing to say. In many ways, approaching a contentious conversation by saying, “Sorry,” is a sign of strength. It can mean that you are cognizant of the factors at play and the role you had in bringing them about.
“Sorry” is a diverse word, meaning more than an apology. In a civilised society, we are going to inconvenience people, piss them off, and hurt them. We are going to make mistakes and we are going to act intentionally cruelly towards others. A simple word uttered in isolation and with the right inflexion can bridge these divides we create between ourselves and others – to a point.