I can distinctly remember an incident where a grade school parent called me to discuss my daughter’s behavior with her son. I immediately told the woman how sorry I was and that we would get to the bottom of what was happening. I asked my daughter to apologize and make things right by saying she was sorry. I hoped, in teaching her this skill, that she would become comfortable enough in the practice of apologizing that it would save her grief and heartache for future, more important relationships.
Saying the three words – I am sorry – without any strings attached can heal friendships, marriages, dating experiences, and workplace interactions. This skill was easy to teach my children in a world devoid of technology where the conflicts arose on playgrounds, during playdates, in classrooms and at home. Social media, which really only came into my girls’ lives in high school, has caused an epidemic of hurt for many people. A sincere and meaningful apology has become diluted. If someone makes an anonymous hurtful comment, they don’t have to own it. If people are cruel in silence, no one feels responsible. And in this hashtag generation, people are more #sorrynotsorry than ever before. Parents now face a bigger battle with teens; how can they teach the lesson of the apology when they may not know where the attack is coming from and who is behind it?
Urban Dictionary defines the term Sorry Not Sorry as this:
1) Typically used to signify that the speaker doesn’t care whether their behavior emotionally upsets someone else.
2) The term could also be used to acknowledge that the speaker’s behavior could upset someone, but the speaker stands by his or her behavior.
Recently, singer Demi Lovato came out with a song of the same name. She tweeted this about her song: “This is an anthem for anyone who’s ever been hated on and has risen above it.” She’s not sorry for who she is, kudos to Demi. While I agree with the concept, it is still troubling she used the term ‘sorry not sorry’ to get across the point that she is a beautiful, talented and strong young woman.
Seven years ago, I received a letter from a family member. In it, the person told me how sorry they were for things that they had done to hurt me over the years. It was a beautiful letter beginning with an admission and heartfelt words. I read the first two paragraphs eager to begin repairing a relationship that had caused much pain. The third paragraph began as follows: “I am actually not interested in rehashing and going over the past.” The caveat. I wanted so badly make things right, but the idea that I couldn’t talk about anything that the person had done to me was stifling. How can we move on if we don’t bury the past together? How can we heal?
Matt Lauer’s public statement brought me back to that letter. Instead of just saying he was sorry, Mr. Lauer said this: “Some of what is being said about me is untrue or mischaracterized, but there is enough truth in these stories to make me feel embarrassed and ashamed…” These words were like fire to me. How could he, a man who was loved, idolized and expected to be a father, son, husband and public role model not want to admit that he was wrong?
The New York Times article that came out when Matt’s secret was revealed echoed my anger in the title: Matt Lauer Offers Apology (With a Caveat). There is a video filled with clips of many who have taken the #sorrynotsorry way out of apologizing. These non-apologizers remind me of my family member but more importantly remind me of how far away we are from facing one another when the going is at its toughest.
As I have written before, my apology skills are a work in progress. Maybe that is why I give the words so much weight. Maybe it is why I wanted to teach my children how to do it better than me. Perhaps it is the reason why I was so angry last week. Apologizing means NOT taking the easy way out; it means sitting with a transgression and actually owning up to whatever reaction an action caused. It’s becoming a lost art in our current culture. Someone tell me how we can find our way back to learning how to apologize with compassion rather than caveats.