For years I took it as a point of pride in sharing my belief that simply saying “I’m sorry” doesn’t fix anything. It was my armor! I was demonstrating my deep insight into the human condition – so I thought. “I’m sorry”, in my eyes, was simply a tool of the guilty to relieve their guilt. A child who gets caught with their hands in the cookie jar says, “I’m sorry” to appease their parents because that’s what polite people say. “I’m sorry” covers a multitude: cheating, stealing, dishonesty and even “honest mistakes” are somehow all supposed to be better with a well-placed “I’m sorry”.
What I now realize I was doing was creating the appropriate conditions for me to control the situation. I built a wall – a barrier between me and other people. I was very skillfully e
nsuring that I remained the victim or the martyr in any situation where I was on the receiving end of an offense. I was making myself right – so, of course, “I’m sorry” didn’t fix anything. There was only one side of things that mattered – my side.
I have now come to appreciate that it’s not about the words. No, the words “I’m sorry” don’t fix anything. However, it’s the apology that matters – the entire situation – both sides. The act of apologizing creates a space for both parties to move on – to be complete – to receive closure. The act of apologizing has the potential to strengthen and deepen a pre-existing relationship or to create a new connection. Maybe what I’ve really come to appreciate is the value of connection?
Ultimately, the apology sets us up for the possibility of what comes after the offense. I sincerely believe that it’s not the offense that has lasting impact – that’s done – it’s over – it’s the past. It’s what happens next – after the offense – that helps us grow and enjoy the present. By focusing on the present and what’s possible there is the opportunity to learn from the offense. There is the opportunity to ask questions like: What did I learn? What was the real cause of this offense? What am I responsible for? What can I take away from this particular situation? Who was I being? The answers to those questions are sure to yield insights that will contribute to personal growth, development and a deeper understanding.
So, while “I’m sorry” doesn’t fix anything – a sincere apology can be a powerful tool to practice being a better person, a connector, and a leader.