Why do we say sorry?
Sorry is often meaningless
Have you ever stopped to wonder why people say sorry? I think it's one of the most meaningless words us humans have invented. It's a word that people use like a 'Get out of jail free' card. I did something wrong, all I have to do is say sorry and it'll be okay again. I've decided that from now on, I am going to call people on it when they say 'sorry.' They'll be saying, "Sorry..." and I'm just going to reply, "Actually, you're not sorry. You had a good evening while I stayed at home with my dog, so don't waste my time saying sorry you forgot to invite me because you had fun, you don't mean it."
A couple of years ago, when I still lived in China, I travelled home to South Africa one Christmas. In China, when you are in a crowd situation, especially at a train station or an airport, you have to walk with your elbows out, pushing your way through the crowd and elbowing people out of the way. Whenever you go back to civilization, you have to unlearn your rude behavior. In Johannesburg International Airport, the domestic terminal was quite crowded, and for a moment I forgot where I was and rammed my baggage trolley into a poor unsuspecting woman. Before I could say anything, she turned around and apologized to me. She was standing still, I was careless with my trolley, so why was she saying sorry to me? She couldn't have meant it because she'd done nothing wrong. Sometimes people just say sorry for the sake of saying it.
One partner cheats on the other. (Note I'm not discriminating and saying when a man cheats on his wife!) Anyway, they get caught, and what do they say, "I'm sorry, it'll never happen again. I love you." What poppycock. They don't mean it! They're not really sorry! They had a fun time, it was exciting cheating, they don't really regret it. They only say sorry, because they think that that's what you want to hear. Sorry is sort of expected of them. Them saying sorry will make you feel all good and forgiveness will seep out of your every pore.
In Tanzania, the two most common words you'll hear are "pole sana." You guessed it, this means 'sorry.' You bump your toe, someone you don't even know who's walking past will say, "Pole sana." You misplace your keys, and someone will say, "Pole sana." You get mugged on the street and people will say, "Pole sana." You cut your tongue when you lick a stamp and people will say, "Pole sana." Are they really sorry, not at all. It's just something people say to offer sympathy that they don't really mean. They want you to feel better because they've comiserated with you, but seriously, they don't care a jot if you feel better or not. People are actually quite self-centred.
Of course, there are times when people say sorry and genuinely mean it, like when someone close to you dies and they say they're sorry to hear it. I wish we could use a different word to 'sorry' in those circumstances. Sorry is just so senseless and has lost its meaning, I'm sorry to say. Now am I really sorry? I think not. I think when a person genuinely apologizes, and really means the 'sorry,' there should be some physical contact involved. Like a hug or a hand on the shoulder, some kind of contact that shows you are genuine. Your apology is the real deal.
The whole question of saying sorry was brought home to me today. One little boy, who granted is usually the troublemaker, was accused of pushing another boy. He wasn't allowed to join his peers until he apologized and said 'sorry' to the boy he was accused of pushing. I could see the agony of indecision on his face as he wrestled with what he was told to do. He didn't want to say 'sorry' for the sake of saying it. He didn't feel sorry, and I could see he thought that apologizing for the push was unfair. Children have a very strong sense of what is fair and what is unfair. Eventually, the adult blackmailed him to say 'sorry.' If you don't...then you won't...The little boy succumbed to the pressure and apologized for something you could see he didn't believe he was guilty of. As it turned out, another parent had observed the whole incident from start to finish, and it wasn't the little boy who was made to apologize who started it. The other one, should have said 'sorry' to him first. This made me wonder, how often are we blackmailed into aplogizing for something we weren't actually guilty of, just to make peace. Is this a kind of conflict resolution? Say sorry even if you don't mean it, so that the conflict is resolved and you can get on with your life? What message were we sending out to that little boy? Sorry is a punishment to avoid a bigger punishment?
Sorry is definitely used as an escape by many, to avoid conflict. Of course, there are times when people are genuine, but start thinking about whether or not you are truly sorry the next time you say it. Make physical contact with the person to show you are genuine. If you don't mean it, shrug and say nothing. And if this hub offended you, then I'm sorry.