Saying “I’m sorry” and meaning it is crucial to your life and relationship. Here’s how.
With all due respect to “I love you,” the most important eight-letter phrase in the English language is “I am sorry.” Life and its myriad minor endeavors are an exercise in trial and error even on days when you got a hot hand. Our mastery of cause and effect doesn’t always even extend past our own body. Life has too many independent variables, free radicals, and soundbites from smug TV news litter boxes to ever fully link intent and outcome.
Even the purest hearts can cause a swath of destruction like a drunk Godzilla trying to make it to a slice of pizza on the other side of Tokyo. And really all the rest of us want is an apology. We made a gigantic mistake teaching the phrase “it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission” to dumb people without teaching them how to say “sorry” first.
Here’s the best way to apologize to someone because a good and well-met apology has basically just four parts.
1. Know what injury you may have caused even if it’s inadvertent .
Unintended consequences are still consequences. I get it. We’re all snowflakes. We all catch feelings too easy. We’re all soft as baby poop. However, if you want to maintain a relationship with someone, it’s unlikely that you yelling “FEELINGS AIN’T FACTS, SUNSHINE!” is gonna smooth over ruffled feathers. Frankly, it’s kind of flattering to know that our actions (and words) have such long-reaching consequences.
However, those big-ass feet you’ve got sometimes step on toes both on the dance floor and on the way out of the subway. Know that. Believe that. Put yourself in the flip flops that a person with bad judgment has been wearing around New York all day when you do accidentally crunch a big toe. These are metaphors.
Here’s the rhubarb with this one: it’s possible that your level of empathy isn’t able to register this wound no matter how hard you try. And rhubarb part two: you may suspect the aggrieved party is behaving like a male, European soccer player who was jostled a bit in front of a referee. The latter is a problem.
2. Forget the excuses .
The best way to apologize to someone is to remember that a good apology doesn’t include the word “but” (unless you’re a colossally bad speller and are sorry for being a real “but”). If you’re remotely repentant, your “my bad, fam” won’t include anything about Mercury being in retrograde or the sun was in your eyes or “when was I gonna have another shot a threeway with a pre-jail Lil Kim and a post-butt implant Kim K?”
For sure, extenuating circumstances exist but we’re talking about legitimate fault. And, while we’re at it, forget getting a prize for apologizing outside of a slightly clearer conscience.
3. Tell the person you are sorry for causing said injury (and mean it).
A forced apology is virtually valueless. Sure, there is a certain sadistic (or satisfying, I suppose) power dynamic in making a person prostrate herself before you over a minor and/or unintentional slight. However, saying “I’m sorry” is very, very simple. If you appreciate why you may have caused some kind of fallout and you regret it, say so.
Some people think the word “apology” cheapens an apology but it doesn’t really matter if it’s heartfelt. Some of you severely lack sincerity in your countenance and are likely better off writing down your mea culpas. It’s no one’s fault if you look the guy who played Lumbergh in Office Space, you’re just going to have to work around it.
And the extreme downside of apologizing is culpability. In a time and place which anyone can sue any person, at any time, for any reason, admitting guilt has become problematic (to use the parlance of our times). Any lawyer would advise you to never admit to anything and any PR flack would suggest you change the subject. Maybe the price for responsibility is the ever-looming threat of pettiness.
4. Decide how you’re going to avoid the situation in the future .
Even if part of your apology isn’t detailing your plan to avoid the situation in the future, have one. Life is too short to keep making the same mistake(s) again unless you really don’t give a waffle cone. Not just as a decent person who doesn’t want to hurt the same person or people in the same way, but as a person who may lose her mind hearing the same howls over and over again.
Changing one-time behavior is pretty simple. Changing patterns is doable but it involves a lesson in humility and lifestyle change that most of us just aren’t ready for.
We may live in the era of hurt feelings and misunderstandings but we can stop the rise of the age of pettiness by saying “sorry” and meaning it here and there.