I was thinking about apologising this week, not that there was a particular incident which I needed to say sorry for, but instead I was reflecting on how bad we are at it – generally speaking! Is that through lack of practise I wonder?
We all make mistakes, and yet we often fail to apologise properly, or even at all. This can only harm our relationships, and in my experience, I only ever think more highly of someone who admits their faults, not less.
I may struggle to point to specific Bible verses here, so please treat this as helpful advice rather than anything else! Experience gained the hard way is the only authority I can claim!
When you apologise, be specific.
Sometimes when we discipline our children, they say “sorry” but really they mean “Be quiet Dad!” When I probe a little, asking what they are aplogising for, they cannot always tell me.
When you tell someone you are sorry, be clear about what it is you are sorry for. It not only acknowledges the mistake you made, but shows you understand why they were upset or hurt.
For instance, you could say:
- I’m sorry I snapped at you this morning, it wasn’t your fault and I should not have said what I did.
- I’m sorry I did not do what I said I would do yesterday, that must have been frustrating and created extra work for you.
While you do not necessarily need to mention when it happened, I think that can help to be clear about what went on.
Keep It Simple and Short
In my experience, it is better to be brief and to keep things simple. When we go on and on, trying to explain or setting the scene, it can come across as making excuses. We will touch on that in a moment, but for now, keep things straightforward.
I am not suggesting that you say something like, “I’m sorry I had an affair, that was inconsiderate of me.” As clearly, such a wrong requires a little more effort on our part!
I’m sorry, but… no excuses
When we apologise, we should offer no excuse along with it. You can hear the tell tale signs when someone says, “I’m sorry, but…” that little word “but” adds the idea that although I was wrong, there were extenuating circumstances which mean it wasn’t totally my fault.
Worse is when we say, “I’m sorry, but you…” turning around a situation like that is never any way to say we are sorry.
The truth is, when we are wrong, we have no excuse for our behaviour. There may be reasons why it happened, such as tiredness, worry, fear or stress, but an excuse does not make a wrong thing right.
I once heard it said that an excuse is a reason stuffed with a lie, and there is much truth to that.
When we are wrong, we should just say so, offering no excuses for the behaviour. It is merely an attempt to lessen the offence. Far better to just hold up one’s hands and and say, “I was wrong, I’m sorry.”
In a similar way, when we are wrong, we have no defence any more than we have an excuse.
In a court of law, the accused mounts a defence to prove their innocence. In situations where the defendant admits their guilt, no defence is required.
When we say we are sorry, we are admitting that we have done something wrong. If we defend ourselves in that scenario, do we really believe we are “guilty” therefore? If some part of us believes we are innocent, then our apology lacks integrity.
Don’t apologise like a politician!
I write this at a time when the Prime Minister in the UK has been accused of breaking COVID restrictions which he imposed upon the rest of the nation. His “apologies” to date have not been all that well received by other politicians or the wider public. He has offered excuses; “I didn’t know it broke the rules…” and he has defended himself, saying “It was a work event, and I was only there 10 minutes…”
Often politicians will apologise by saying things like, “I’m sorry that hurt was caused…” thus avoiding any personal responsibility. It is like saying, “I’m sorry you took offence…” again, implying that the fault is not theirs, but yours… you took offence where none was intended.
Apologies must be freely offered, and not given begrudgingly. When politicians, or indeed anyone, apologises this way, we all question the sincerity of it.
Well, I’ve said I was sorry…
I have pointed out many ways not to apologise, and I hope it helps you give more honest and sincere apologies in future. My advice is simply to be open and admit when you’ve done wrong.
I want to close by reminding you that even when you do apologise sincerely, acceptance of that apology and forgiveness must never be demanded.
If someone does not respond positively to your sorrow, then please never say “Well, I’ve apologised, what more do you want?”
Forgiveness must never be demanded. When you offer your apologies, you must leave them with the other person and give them time to respond. It is not for you to remind them that they ought to forgive you, or that your apologies somehow heal hurts that were caused.
We all make mistakes, and as long as we live and interact with other people, there will be times when we need to say we are sorry for a wrong we have done. Let us apologise sincerely, without excuse or defence, and humbly say we are sorry when we need to.
I hope this has been helpful, and trust you won’t need to call upon it too often! Have a great day!