Recently a friend called me out on how I made them feel about something, and of course I made myself say, “I’m sorry.” However, I didn’t really feel sorry, and in wondering why, stumbled upon this amazing realization.
I’ll give you an example to make this clear. The example isn’t perfect, but hopefully you’ll get the idea.
You are in line for ice cream, and someone comes in behind you with a screaming kid. The guy behind the counter is taking his time, and the kid is just screaming more and more. Now in this situation, you have a choice, you could let them go before you, and fix the screaming kid problem, or you could keep your turn in line. If you want, we can even give make you very hungry, and really not in any mood to wait.
So you decide to keep your place in line, and once both you and the lady with the kid are well fed, she passes by you, and blows up at you, complaining “how could you have been so inconsiderate” of me, now my day is ruined, since I had to fight with my kid. Aren’t you going to apologize for making me angry?
Herein, is the problem. She made herself angry. You didn’t do it. In fact, she could have just picked up her kid and left… no one forced her to get ice cream.
Let’s pretend that you wanted to act sincerely, since all of your actions you try to do out of sincerity. Can you really feel sorry hurting the woman? After all, you didn’t make her mad. Sure you could have alleviated things a little, but was it really your fault?
No, not really.
However, how is it reasonable that she expect you to apologize?
It comes down to perspective. If you take the perspective of the one who was hurt, and put yourself in their shoes, you can in fact be sorry for making them mad. The problem, is that as an individual, you don’t belong in their perspective, rather your own perspective, and from that vantage point there is nothing to apologize for.
So how can someone sincerely apologize? Only by going beyond yourself, and sitting with them in their pain. Since if their pain is your pain, which is often appropriate in friendship, you can actually feel it yourself – and in doing so, you can find the power to apologize sincerely.
This reality also explains why sometimes when someone apologizes it doesn’t seem sincere. Because, while they can say the words, they aren’t connected to you enough to mean it. It’s interesting that the astute person can pick that up in the emotions of the person who is apologizing. Are they simply assuage their own guilt, just paying lip service, or are they really there with you in the pain.
And with that, I thank my friend who has taught me this important lesson, and can now say I am truly sorry, since as they noted in conversation, I wasn’t with them in their pain, like a good friend should have been.