Water your thoughts: Didn’t your momma ever teach you how to say “I’m sorry” and mean it?

Imagine I came up to you, slapped you in the face and then told you that I felt sorry your face hurt. You might think, “wait… is she going to acknowledge that she slapped me?” After all, if I can’t take responsibility for the actions I took that led to your pain, am I sorry for what I did, or am I only sorry that it affected your view of me? The answer is undoubtedly the latter.

I’ve experienced this type of nonapologetics too many times. The world accepts the phrase “I’m sorry” as a remedy to wrongs when the phrase should be only a uttered for a real apology. A real apology involves remorse, responsibility and intention to change. The goal should be to express genuine sorrow for one’s actions and to improve the situation, even if the solution is undesirable for them. Before people head into a genuine apology, they should ask themselves how the person they have hurt is feeling. Apologies involve communication, so if a wrongdoer is unsure how the person they have wronged is feeling, asking trusted peers or maybe even the individual for advice is okay. The key to giving genuine apologies is opening your mind to the idea your actions may be less than perfect in certain areas, but certainly towards who you have hurt.

How do you know if you’ve given a genuine apology? Well, if you find yourself claiming that you make mistakes but are a good person, then you should investigate whether you are making the same “mistakes”. If you are, then you shouldn’t be calling those actions mistakes. Back to my earlier example: If I slap you again the next day, then we both know I was not sorry  the first time. I just wanted it to appear as such. In that case, I am rationalizing my behavior as out of my control and remaining morally stagnant. Being sorry is a continual state, not just a 12 minute conversation to clear the conscious. If you care about hurting people, you have to take the time to ensure that you won’t hurt people in the same way, and that doesn’t happen overnight — it requires commitment and effort.

So, next time you apologize, ask yourself who you are apologizing for: yourself or who you hurt. Ask yourself what you are trying to improve upon: your image or the individual’s current reality. If you do something to hurt someone else, investigate what moral weakness you need to acknowledge and then actually work to fix it. Every person makes mistakes, and we all have room to grow. Learning to admit when you are wrong is pivotal to being a better person, and how a person apologizes is a reflection of their emotional maturity and will to improve.

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