Apologize or Not?


photo death of socrates painting

How many times do you hear and say “sorry” every single day?  Be careful, the Universe is listening and taking notes.

This topic has been floating around my head for a while now, but it really hit home recently as to how prevalent this is in society today. I included a few other articles at the bottom related to this topic, but the general theme I’ve found is that there is more written about what you should NOT apologize for rather than what you should apologize for.

A fascinating thing I also found in my research is Plato’s Apology.  The above painting is from Jacques-Louis David titled “The Death of Socrates” and relates to Plato’s work. Plato’s Apology is basically the story of Socrates’ trial with most of it being Socrates addressing his accusers and defending his actions. The interesting thing is that he never apologizes for anything. That ultimately leads to his condemnation and death.  I’ve included that link at the bottom and its a very interesting read that I highly recommend.

Let’s start with the easy stuff: when to NOT apologize.

No Apologies

I’ve been doing a lot of travel lately and as such, I’ve been exposed to many people in a variety of different situations. A couple of quick examples where I was on the receiving end of “apologies”:

  • I was one of the first to board the plane and was sitting in my aisle seat fully expecting that I’d need to get up eventually to let someone in the row.   A stranger walks down the aisle, checks the row number, has the window seat in my row, makes eye contact with me and says, “Sorry….<motioning to the window seat>”
  • I’m at the gift shop counter at the airport and patiently standing there for about 30 seconds with no clerk ready to pay for something.  My flight didn’t depart for another hour and I had nothing but time on my hands.  The clerk arrives, I smile and say hello and she says, “Sorry to keep you waiting”
  • I’m on the phone with the travel agency after receiving a notice that my flight was cancelled due to weather.  Before the person on the line could say anything else, they felt the need to say, “Sorry for the inconvenience”

And on and on………

Let’s look at those three examples where I was the person being apologized to. Was an apology really necessary in any of those cases? In the first one, isn’t it to be expected that if I’m sitting in an aisle seat, there’s a very high likelihood that I’ll need to get up at some point to let the person in the window seat get in? It could be an inconvenience if I’m all situated and such. But still, is it necessary to apologize? In the second one, maybe the clerk just assumed that I was going to be pissed that they weren’t there right when I was ready to pay. But do I really believe their apology if that’s the case? Do you think they are really sorry? And in the third one, the person on the phone doesn’t know me, doesn’t know my circumstances and had absolutely no hand in creating my flight cancellation. Why should they be sorry?

When an Apology IS Necessary

This begs the question……when do you apologize?  If the answer to all four of these questions is YES, then ONE apology is warranted. I’ll get to the one part later.

  1. Was the intent in your HEART to do the right thing?
  2. Do you know in your HEART that you screwed up?
  3. Do you know in your HEART that you hurt someone deeply?
  4. Do you believe in your HEART that it will NEVER happen again?

I’m sure you picked up on the “in your HEART” theme on all of the questions. This requires a bit of self awareness to recognize when you are acting or reacting in your heart. The first question is probably the hardest “in your heart” question to answer. You have to consider whether your intent was truly to do the right thing. Or was your intent to not get caught?

A perfect example is cheating in a relationship. You love your wife, you love your kids, you love your life.  You go out with the boys, you get drunk, you have a one night stand, one of your wife’s friends gets wind of it, your wife finds out and you got a big problem.

The answer to questions 2 and 3 could very well be a resounding HELL YES. You DO know you screwed up and you absolutely know that you hurt your wife deeply. But was your intent really to do the right thing? Could have been. You could blame alcohol. But if your wife never found out, would you really be able to look into your heart and say, “my intent was to not have sex with that IHOP waitress in the parking lot at 3 AM”? Liar! You might have not set out that night to do so, but you also didn’t stop it from happening when the circumstance presented itself. And then with question 4, do you really believe that it will NEVER happen again? If you’re blaming alcohol, then you better be ready to give up alcohol forever.

I’m not going to pretend to know how to navigate that slippery slope, but my point is that YOU have to know what your intent truly was before you think about apologizing to anyone. Let’s move on to a couple of examples where I believe an apology is warranted.

  1. You promise your 8 year old daughter that you’ll be at her dance recital. You get pulled into a crisis at work, lose track of time and at 4:30 realize that it is now too late to make it to her dance recital.
  2. You lose sight of the date and forgot about your Mother’s birthday until the day after when your brother calls to let you know.

The first three questions are easy “yeses” here assuming you have a soul. It’s the last question about believing that it will NEVER happen again that presents the problem. You could easily find yourself in a situation with your daughter where you’re saying, “I’m sorry!” but in doing so can you really say that it will NEVER happen again? It’s about knowing what you’re sorry for. Are you sorry that you forgot or sorry that your job dictates your schedule? Perhaps, you have to explain that you may not be able to be at everything she ever does because your job does dictate your schedule. But what you can apologize for is that you will NEVER forget about a commitment you made to be there.

In the case of the second scenario, I am personally guilty of this one many years ago. I felt terrible about then and still feel terrible about it today. I have no doubt that I threw apologies around like candy back then without really understanding any of this. In all likelihood, I presented a set of excuses why I forget rather than just saying, “I’m sorry. I screwed up and I will NEVER forget your birthday again.”

One Apology

In scenario 1, it’s highly likely that before you have to face your daughter, you have to face your wife. Without thinking the first words out of your mouth are probably, “I’m sorry”. Going back to my 4 questions, is your wife really the right one to hear this? Your daughter is the ONLY one who needs to hear it IF you’re committed to making sure it never happens again. Once again, I won’t try to figure out the right way to navigate this one but recognize that ONE apology carries a lot more weight than multiple. They get watered down the more you give out so choose wisely.

In scenario 2, I’m sure I apologized to my brother and my Dad before I ever thought about apologizing to my Mom. By the time I got to her, the apology was watered down. I really don’t remember how I handled all of this, but what I do remember is feeling absolutely terrible about it and knowing that it did in fact hurt her very deeply.

Conclusion

I decided to write this because it ties right in with Law of Attraction.  If you spend time saying “sorry” at random and not meaning it, you’re putting it out there that you’re expecting to let someone down.  You’re expecting to hurt them deeply.  You’re expecting to let yourself down.  In a bigger sense, you’re telling the Universe, “I’m expecting to let people down and hurt them so please make that happen for me since I’m spending so much time practicing how to say sorry.”  Imagine the other side though where you only apologize when necessary.  It means something every single time you do so.  It’s painful and very difficult but each time you do it, you recognize how difficult and painful it is and THEN you’re motivated to never have to apologize again, thus never let anyone down again.  The Universe recognizes the fact that you no longer need to apologize as frequently and eventually, you are a man or woman of your word without fail.

I’ll conclude by saying that this is easy stuff to write about and to understand.  But it is absolutely tough to put into action.  Even though I’m very much aware of my own actions and how often I say the “s word”, I still catch myself at times nearly bumping into someone at the grocery story and blurting it out.  Or approaching someone and saying, “sorry to bother you, but….”.

If nothing else, just make yourself aware of how often you hear the “s word” in your travels and how often it was really necessary.  Likewise, be aware of the next time you do truly deserve to be on the receiving end of an authentic and single, “I’m sorry”.

http://www2.hn.psu.edu/faculty/jmanis/plato/apology.pdf

http://www.hellomynameisblog.com/2009/11/37-things-you-should-never-apologize.html

http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/smartnews/2013/04/people-who-never-apologize-are-probably-happier-than-you/

http://yoursuperawesomelife.com/blog/12-things-you-should-never-apologize-for/

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