You know that person. The guy or gal who can never seem to bring him or herself to swallow their pride and say the only two words you want to hear when you get upset with them: “I’m sorry.”
On the surface, it seems so simple. It’s just two words that demonstrate an understanding that one person has wronged another. An apology demonstrates ownership over hurtful or careless words and actions. Apologies convey regret that those words or actions either intentionally or unintentionally hurt someone else.
It’s almost as if we think that, because we’re Christians, we have a holy “get out of jail free when we say something stupid or insensitive” card.
Yet when the rubber hits the road so many of us mitigate or qualify our apologies. Christians seem especially bad at this. As the tension between evangelicals and culture has risen in the last few months (see election coverage, transgendered bathrooms, any time President Obama comes up, etc.) the examples of Christians being bad at apologizing have proliferated. It’s almost as if we think that, because we’re Christians, we have a holy “get out of jail free when we say something stupid or insensitive” card. Newsflash: you don’t. When you care more about making a point or winning an argument over the person with whom you are speaking you face the prospect of being right while simultaneously being wrong. People are more important than points.
Now, let’s be honest. We’ve all got a little jerk in us somewhere so the chances that, at some point today, you will need to apologize to someone for something is pretty high. When you find yourself in this situation be sure to avoid these 3 non-apology apologies.
- I’m sorry if I hurt you. If you feel the need to say this then chances are that you actually hurt the other person. This non-apology apology reeks of defensiveness and self-justification. It places the blame on the person who was hurt, implying that if they were just a little tougher or less sensitive then what you said/did wouldn’t have hurt them. Just drop the “if!” You are at least somewhat aware that you hurt them, so say that.
- I’m sorry that you misunderstood. While acknowledging that a misunderstanding took place, an honest impetus to a lot of apologies, it completely dismisses personal responsibility in the communication process. This non-apology implies that your communication skills are always so sterling that there is absolutely no way that the way you communicated to the other person could have been the source of the misunderstanding. Whether you think you communicated it well or not, you did not communicate in such a way that it was understood by the other person. You’re still at least partly responsible. Instead, say “I’m sorry for the miscommunication. I didn’t mean (x), I meant (y).”
- I’m sorry that I used a term you find objectionable to describe what I honestly think. A good example of this is something I recently experienced. In a discussion about politics (shocker that it led to the need for an apology, huh?), I was called a naive idealist. I objected to being called naive and the person’s response was more or less, “I’m sorry I used that word to describe this kind of thing that you seem to be.” Once again, this non-apology apology deflects responsibility for one’s words onto the other party’s response. In essence, it says “I’m sorry you’re offended by what I think about you.” Instead, try “I’m sorry I used that word/term” and leave it at that.
So why are we so bad at apologies? I would like to believe that, most of the time, we honestly don’t mean to hurt other people. Sometimes we’re just careless. We’re also pretty defensive and don’t like admitting that, without trying, we can be hurtful or careless. We generally think that others should give us the benefit of the doubt, be a little tougher or less sensitive, or not take things so personally.
But the essence of honoring others over yourself is caring more about how they actually respond rather than decrying how we think they should have responded and acknowledging your personal responsibility in bringing the situation about. It’s pretty ironic that a group that espouses the idea that we’re all sinners (that is, evangelicals) can be so bad about acknowledging actual occurrences of personal sin as it happens and directly impacts another person.
So when your inner jerk comes out today and you realize that you’ve hurt someone else, regardless of how justified or right you feel you are, just say two words: “I’m sorry.”