Relationship Matters: How Powerful Is The Word ‘Sorry’?


People always say I am cynical every time I maintain that the word sorry is not as powerful as we tend to make it out to be. I have been called unforgiving, hard, difficult and many other such names. Call me what you may, but it is my sincere belief that while the word sorry is relevant, applicable and powerful in many situations, it is not a one-drug-cures-all for every time a person does something wrong.

I find that most people tend to hide behind that word to shelve responsibility for their actions and inactions. People think that whatever they do, if they just say sorry, it makes it all good again. They use the word sorry as a means of manipulating the injured party and turning responsibility for the situation over to them. Well, newsflash! It does not work that way.

Saying sorry is well and good when you say it and mean it. If a person is truly sorry about the wrong that they have done to another, they will at the very least wish to assume responsibility for any damages their actions might have caused. Being truly sorry means you want to take away at least some of the pain and loss that you have caused. You want to make things good again for the offended party if you can.

Instead people want to say sorry and go back to their own lives as if nothing ever happened. Such a response does not take the other person’s loss into account. They forget that another person’s life might have been affected negatively, possibly irrevocably by what they have done.

People must not always pay for their actions. Neither do I disregard the biblical injunction to forgive those who offend against us. But being sorry for an offence against another person should sometimes come with a share of the responsibility for the damage caused. The word ‘sorry’, uttered casually is not usually equal to the loss incurred by the injured party.

A Genuine Expression Of Remorse And Regret
When a person is genuinely remorseful about something they have done or not done that has caused hurt to someone else, then saying sorry is an apt way to express that remorse. This is more so if the person could not have known before hand that his actions or inactions would have resulted in the outcomes that ensued.

Actions taken in good faith that caused damage and loss to others are covered by this. In such situations, you find the offender offering some form of restitution without being prompted. He is genuinely sorry and he has a desire to alleviate any suffering he might have caused in any way that he can. While this is not about the restitution, the genuineness of his remorse is obvious not only in his words, but by his actions.

When Sorry Doesn’t Wash
1. Repeat Offences

When a person keeps doing the same thing to hurt another person over and over and he keeps apologizing, it is obvious that he is not genuinely sorry for his actions. Genuine remorse comes with the desire to not only remove the hurt from your actions but also not to cause further damage. Not matter how much you apologize, hurting a person again and again in the same way shows great disregard for their feelings.

Your repeated actions also show impunity. You say you are sorry with your words but your actions tell a story of their own. And what they are really saying is, ‘I really don’t care. I can always do what I want and later, say sorry.’

It also shows a great degree of selfishness. You are actually more interested in fulfilling your desires at the expense of the other person. You know your actions will cause hurt, but you still do them. There is no point then to saying you are sorry because you are not.

2. Expecting Automatic Forgiveness

When a person offers an apology and automatically expects the other person to accept it, he is not truly sorry; he is just looking to assuage his own feelings of guilt. That is when you hear things like, ‘I said I’m sorry, why are you still acting this way?’ ‘I’ve been begging you now for weeks, why are you still angry?’ etc.

Genuine remorse recognizes the pain that the offended party is going through and should be willing to make allowances for that person to process their grief.

We all deal with anger and hurt in different ways; don’t expect anybody else to deal with theirs the way you would yours. You chose your actions; you cannot take away their right to choose their reaction. Do not expect automatic forgiveness or even forgiveness at your own pace and timing. Respect their right to choose forgiveness (or not) at their own pace.

3. Actions With Obvious Outcomes
If you knew beforehand that your actions could result in hurt to another and yet you choose that path, saying sorry cannot excuse your actions. For example, a man who cheats on his wife made a choice to cheat. He cannot honestly claim it was a mistake because cheating involves considerable forethought and many opportunities to desist.

Again, it is reasonable to assume that he would have expected his wife will be hurt by his actions. Can he now genuinely say he is sorry he cheated? Truth is, he is mostly not sorry for his actions; he is more sorry that he got caught.

4. Freedom From Responsibility
Sometimes, people offer apologies just to be free from the responsibility of what they have done. If for example I bash a friend’s car while it is on loan to me, genuine remorse would demand that I at least offer to pay some of the repair costs. It is most likely he would refuse such an offer, but in making it, I am letting him know I understand that my actions have resulted in some loss to him and I am willing to take some of the responsibility for that loss.

But you find that most people would apologize and for them that is the end of it. It probably never occurred to them that their friend might not be financially able to fix the car or might have to take money off some other project to fix it since it was an unplanned expense.

Others would get real mad in the unlikely event that their friend actually takes them up on the offer to pay for the car repairs. This shows that they were never genuinely sorry. Their apology was to shift responsibility for the damage to the car (their action) to another person. A quick question here would be: suppose it was your car you bashed, would you say sorry to the mechanic and get him to fix it for sorry?

Though we do not have to pay for every time we do something wrong, but we can take responsibility for the times that we can.

To be continued…..

By Oma Ogbodo

Photo Courtesy: Lumimorg

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  1. It is a great article Oma! i enjoyed the paragragh on expecting automatic forgiveness, it is so true with many people who are not genuinely sorry for their actions and want to push it over to the other person.

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