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THOMPSON: The importance of a sincere apology

December 04, 2017 - 12:00 PM

 


OPINION


Did you ever get an apology from someone that just didn’t seem quite like an apology?

Increasingly, I’ve found that some people simply can’t come to terms with saying, “I’m sorry.” Back in the day apologies seemed fairly common. You did something wrong…something that offended someone…you apologized. Pretty simple…pretty straightforward.

I don’t know when and where things changed. But they have. I’ve had plenty of opportunities to apologize…being human. I’ve lied before. I’ve said things - sometimes in anger and sometimes in arrogance or because I was misinformed - that hurt someone. And, I am certain that on more occasions than I might want to admit…I’ve let people down and disappointed them.

But, as much as it hurts…and it does…I’ve come to understand how important it is to say, “I’m sorry” when you leave someone worse than you found them. You see, apologies don’t go very far when you’re holding the reigns too tightly. Hey, it’s not easy to admit our transgressions. Think about the last time you apologized to someone…did you look them in the eyes or stare at the floor like a four-year-old? Hey, we’ve all done it.

But without a sincere apology for our wrongs…well, things are never quite the same.

Of course, there have been rare occasions when I’ve said or done something with the intention of hurting someone’s feelings. No apology offered. We’ve all been there, too. Fortunately, those times are few and far between.

But, back to what an apology is…and what it’s not. It’s hard to endure an insincere apology from someone. We all know how exasperating that is. Pity is…we should feel that badly when we offer up something that masquerades as an apology to someone.

An apology that starts with “I’m sorry” and the very next words are “if”, “but” or “you” is a non-apology apology. We’ve all heard things like, “I’m sorry if you think I hurt your feelings,” or “I’m sorry, but you don’t understand…” These faux apologies hurt as much or more than the original offences.

Again, if we’re honest, it’s difficult if not impossible to put ourselves in the offended person’s place. So, best not try to make it better by saying, “I know how you must feel….” We don’t. Likewise, an apology is probably best when it’s simple. Grovelling just comes across as insincere…especially if later actions don’t live up to the words.

Apologizing is part of growing…becoming a better person. And those who never apologize…well, it’s not because they don’t do things worthy of a sincere, “I’m sorry.”

A few people simply have no use for apologies…ever. As Donald Trump said, “I think apologizing’s a great thing, but you have to be wrong. I will absolutely apologize in the hopefully distant future, if I’m ever wrong.” Heartfelt apologies, of course, require, well…a heart.

The point is…ALL of us do and say things worthy of apologies. Those who don’t see that clearly…oops, owe us all a huge apology. Another thing to keep in mind when we apologize is that those we offended don’t owe us anything…they don’t have to make it easier for us…and forgiveness isn’t automatic.

“I'm sorry your breast ran into my hands” doesn’t entitle you to either a “That’s okay” or “You’re forgiven.”

Most of us do forgive transgressions…with a sincere apology. But if you believe it’s something someone you offended owes you simply because you uttered a few words…think again! Of course, if someone doesn’t forgive you…you don’t have to grovel. You can simply walk away…but remember, that’s a point of no return for most relationships…forever.

Honesty is an easier word to say that live up to. And being honest with ourselves is really difficult…a lot of ego and pride usually gets in the way. But if we’re honest with ourselves and each other, we wouldn’t hear nearly as many “I’m sorry if you think somehow what I did made you feel bad.”

By the way, I hope this column doesn't offend you. But, if it does, I’m sorry…really.

– Don Thompson, an American awaiting Canadian citizenship, lives in Vernon and in Florida. In a career that spans more than 40 years, Don has been a working journalist, a speechwriter and the CEO of an advertising and public relations firm. A passionate and compassionate man, he loves the written word as much as fine dinners with great wines.  His essays are a blend of news reporting and opinion.


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