A deep, meaningful, heartfelt apology is one of the greatest gifts you can give another person if you did them wrong. I am a big supporter of acknowledging my own mistakes, misunderstandings, misreadings or wrong doings with a big I’m Sorry.
But I believe that the world and the people around us have gotten a bit insensitive over the years. Not everyone. Not in all situations. But as a general observation, I believe that we err more toward apathy than empathy.
Do I think people are even aware of this dispassionate trend? Probably not. Maybe. I don’t know. And I’m not here to judge the origin.
I’m simply here to bring awareness to the situation.
Here’s a very lighthearted example of what I’m talking about. You are walking down the street minding your own business listening to your tunes. Along comes two people walking at you from the other direction. They are focused on each other in conversation.
The sidewalk is two people wide. We now have three people converging to pass. The twosome continues on their path while you think to yourself, “Of course one of them will slow down, move over, and let us pass each other without nudging each other out of the way.”
Nope. Nudge, shoulder jolt, or maybe even you had to quickly escape to the bushes on the side of the walk to avoid being hit.
“Oh, sorry” is all you get from the couple. Everyone keeps going.
Maybe because we are in a heightened state of human nature at the moment – with health, social and diversity concerns being front and center in our lives – we are a bit more aware of our surroundings. Or not – I suppose that all depends on who you are.
But I want to take a stand for awareness. The state of being aware. Being aware of the space you take up, physically and mentally, in other people’s lives. Understanding how your words and actions may impact other people – positively or negatively. Appreciation for the fact that we make a difference to other people, maybe without even knowing how.
Saying “I’m sorry” is easy, right? Two words. We all know them. We all can pronounce them. How about just “sorry”? Even easier. No thought. In fact, I would argue many times “sorry” is simply a backhanded reaction to something that we know we did but don’t want to spend the time thinking about the implications.
Sorry I bumped you.
Oops, sorry, didn’t see you there.
Sorry – you were in my way.
Sorry I said something wrong.
Sorry my dog just pooped on your lawn and I didn’t clean it up. (OK, that one was just something I had to get off my chest because I live in the city).
Have you ever been so upset and hurt about something that someone said to you that you want them to understand the depth of the injury, and all they say to you is, “But I said I’m sorry, what more do you want?”
I think we are ready to move beyond I’m sorry and start to embrace awareness.
Awareness, as defined in psychology, is: the state of being conscious of something. More specifically, is the ability to directly know and perceive, to feel, or to be cognizant of events.
Being conscious. Perceive. Feel.
Our world is too messed up right now for us to simply say ‘sorry’. And that complex messed up situation is different for us all. No matter what you may think about another person’s situation, I can assure you that EVERYONE has something messed up in their life right now.
We’re all stressed. We’re all concerned. We’re all learning new things. We’re all trying to wrestle with obvious injustice or injustice that may not have been so obvious.
We all have a point of view. We all have needs. We all have likes and dislikes. And we are all entitled to every single one of those luxuries.
But we need to also be aware that we ALL have those items in our life. Not just me. Not just you. Everyone. Those you love. Those you hate. Those you don’t even know.
OK, enough of the pep talk. Let’s get action oriented. How do we enhance our awareness so that our sorries become heartfelt forms of support?
First, and in my mind most importantly, we practice kindness.
Yup, I put it out there. BE KIND! Being kind would be a rational approach in a ‘normal’ world scenario, but in our ‘not normal and who knows when it will be normal and goodness knows what normal will even look like’ world we are living in right now, being kind is the king of awareness.
People have differing belief systems. People have different support needs. People are dealing with situations that are different than yours – maybe better, maybe the same, maybe worse – you just don’t know. But as we know so well by now, we are all in this world together.
So the next time you get annoyed by the person walking down the street at you (without a mask on their face), instead of glaring at them and hoping that your shoulder bumps them so hard they fall down (oh goodness, did I think that?), maybe just grin under your mask, take a deep breath, and walk onto the street (carefully) so you avoid any confrontation. And stress. And potential need for a backhanded ‘sorry’.
Secondly, educate yourself before leaping to a judgment that may require a ‘sorry’ in the end.
We all have the right to our own opinions. But in this day and age, our opinions may be formed simply by watching the news. Or listening to other people who have similar opinions. Or reading information that is supporting your current opinion.
Real awareness happens when you put aside your point of view for a moment to educate yourself on a topic by searching out fact based material. Looking at data. Researching historical accounts. Proactively reaching outside of your box to gauge how much of your opinion is built on fact or emotion.
Emotion is good – but better when anchored to a complete understanding of the facts behind the topic.
Educated emotion helps focus your reactions. You’re responses. Your judgements. Your understanding. Your awareness of how you think and feel about a topic.
And ultimately, a little time spent anchoring to facts and figures might just save you the embarrassing, “Sorry I said that” situation.
Lastly, but not leastly, LISTEN.
I am and always will be a Stephen Covey disciple. My Franklin Planner will always be my first, and favorite, planner of all times.
In Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (my version of a life bible of sorts), Habit 5 reads, “Seek First to Understand, then be Understood”. What does this mean? Mr. Covey explains himself this way: “Seeking real understanding affirms the other person and what they have to say. … One person truly listening is generally better than none.“
Listening is a very difficult skill. We think we have it nailed, but if you are simply quiet while another person is talking to you, but thinking about what your response will be or considering all the other things on your to do list for the day or thinking you know what the person is going to say and you don’t agree with them anyway, is not listening.
To truly listen to someone is to cast aside all other ideas/thoughts/reactions/predetermined assumptions running around in your mind and open yourself up to understanding what your counterpart is trying to say.
Not the words but the emotions. The meaning. The reasons. The history. The point of view.
Yeah, sure, you still may not agree. You still may want to make a counter point. You still may think they are completely off base.
But by truly listening you may learn something. You may develop deeper insight to another human being’s ideas. You may understand better how to support someone.
And you avoid the backhanded ‘Sorry, I didn’t hear you.’ or ‘Sorry, I didn’t understand what you were trying to say.’ or ‘Sorry, I never knew (or understood) why you feel that way’.
While the world, arguably, could use a bit more awareness right now, my comments above extend beyond a global pandemic, diversity unrest and political mayhem. They are simple every day activities that, even in the best of times, could encourage more love, understanding, peace, happiness and unintended insults in our daily lives.
So next time you apologize, don’t say sorry. BE sorry.