If you were around in the late ’60s you remember Erich Segal’s best-seller, Love Story, the book that brought tears to the eyes of even the most stoic. Then Ryan O’Neal and Ali McGraw starred in the film version, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house during her death scene, when Oliver apologizes to her and she says, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” That’s probably one of the most memorable lines in cinematic history, right up there with “We’ll always have Paris,” “Here’s looking at you, kid,” and “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”
In my opinion, it’s also one of the most wrong-headed statements every issued. Saying you’re sorry is one of the most difficult things you’ll ever do. It’s too easy to hide behind rationalizations. “She deserved it.” “It’s not my fault he’s an idiot.” “If I apologize, it means I’m wrong, and I don’t want to be wrong.”
I’m not talking about the phony apology, either. “I’m sorry you’re hurt by my comments” as opposed to “I’m sorry my comments caused you pain.” I’m talking about saying you’re sorry and meaning it deeply. “I’m so sorry. I was wrong.” Powerful words that can change lives.
“I’m sorry” not only frees the person you wronged (and you know when you did!), it frees you from carrying that niggling feeling that you were wrong, that you hurt someone by accident or on purpose. It’s the feeling that wakes you up in the dark midnight and makes you squirm. It stays in your heart and won’t let you rest.
Yeah, it take guts to say you’re sorry, but you’ll rest easier when you do. I’ve written letters to former students and friends I was unintentionally cruel to and let them know I regret the things I said or did. Some I sent. For others, the intended recipients were long gone, but the act of writing down my apologies lifted my regret, and I really believe that on some energetic level, those people know that I am truly sorry for the mistakes I made, the words I said in anger or haste, the slaps, the insults, the words and actions that turned me into a bully. It wasn’t easy to quit hiding behind justifications and face the real me, the one who didn’t know better–or the one who did and still chose to hurt to even the score.
Now I have the guts to say “I’m sorry” right away. What a relief. What a healing phrase. What a great way to get right with myself, and others.