Sorry: More Than Just a Board Game


Hey everyone! Welcome to this year’s second edition of getting lit in the opinions section with Janvi! Can you believe it’s been a whole quarter of the school year already?It’s Halloween o’clock, which pretty much means it’s Fall break. Today I’m going to discuss something that everyone has to figure out at some point or another, but can take a really long time to learn: how to say sorry. So let’s get right into it!

Everyone messes up from time to time. Right? Heck, I mess up ALL the time. Some of those mess-ups are my own, like if I eat pizza for dinner after forgetting I had pizza for lunch, or leaving my Spanish workbook at home when I know we’re supposed to have it for every class (sorry, Ms. Schork).

Other mess-ups might be a little higher stakes, as in they affect not just us but other people. These might be like not responding to an important text or email, or having a ton of side conversations in class, or flaking out on plans at the very last minute. And even more dangerous than that? Being flat-out rude, saying something offensive without thinking, having a pattern of turning things in super late, or any one of a host of cringey, awful things that – I hate to break it to you – WILL happen to each and every one of us. So how do we bounce back from those? We just apologize and move on, right? Well, it’s way easier said than done.

First, identify what the problem is. For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to use an example of a friend being upset with you for being callous and unreliable last week when you were actually cranky over something else they don’t know about. You’ve noticed that your friend has begun to put some casual distance between the two of you in the past few days, including texting less and only smiling in the hallways instead of stopping to talk like you two usually do.

When you’re with a group of friends including them, you get a distinct feeling that things have shifted. Or even if the “signs” aren’t overt, you sense that something’s not right between you guys. You’re not quite sure what could have caused this distance, but you have a faint idea that you may have accidentally lashed out last week without meaning to.

Okay, so you see a problem. Now, decide if and why you want to apologize. Sometimes you actually don’t want to apologize – for instance, if someone asked you to help them with  a project on short notice and you (politely!) told them you didn’t have time, they might feel snubbed and be mad at you. You don’t owe them an apology for setting boundaries!

While this situation may be a little obvious, we encounter a lot of such times where we feel like we have to apologize for something that’s not our fault. Not only does this take an emotional toll on both parties, but it kind of cheapens the meaning of your apology if you say sorry for every single thing.

I’ll let you in on a little secret: You actually don’t HAVE to apologize to anyone. You don’t OWE people anything. Liberating, right? But this doesn’t give you the right to just blow others off because you can technically do whatever you want; what I mean here is that by apologizing only when it’s appropriate to do so, your “sorry” carries a lot more weight and the chances of fixing the real problem go way up. Back to our original example – why do you want to apologize? Here, it’s probably because you value that person’s friendship and want to clear the air so things can go back to normal.

Our next step is to reach out to them and ask for their audience. Everyone says that we should do all our serious interactions face-to-face, but I’m not going to harp on that here. It’s certainly true, but I get that we’re all so busy that maybe we don’t have time to ask a quick q in person! For this step, it’s okay to send a text. The hardest part about this phase of the process is gathering the courage to talk to your friend about something serious.

So now, the most important part: the apology. How are we supposed to be direct but not defensive? What’s the balance between vulnerability and a breakdown? Here’s a formula that I’ve found works pretty well for me. First, address and validate their feelings. Next, admit that you made a mistake. After that, say what you learned about your own behavior and what you can do in the future to prevent making the same mistake. Finally, ask for forgiveness.

Back to our example: your friend says that ever since last week, they’ve felt like you see them as a punching bag because you spent the whole day being snarky and blowing them off when they asked you what was wrong. They felt that they didn’t deserve to be treated that way and decided to give you space because that’s what it seemed like you wanted. Now you know exactly why they’re upset, but you also know that last week it wasn’t THEM you were mad at but something else entirely, maybe getting a bad grade or someone else mistreating you. That’s why you were irritable all day and lashed out at your friend, but you totally didn’t mean it that way. We’re not going to say that though– we are offering an apology, not an explanation. If you try to explain away your actions before owning up to them, you’re negating your entire apology by looking like you’re trying to make excuses.

You’re the one apologizing, so don’t deflect blame onto the other person or try and make them think they’re the one in the wrong. It’s not “I’m sorry if I offended you,” it’s not “I’m sorry if you got offended.” It’s “I’m sorry I said something offensive and out of place.”

Also, a rule of thumb in any situation is that “impact overrides intent.” While you may not have meant something in a bad way, or even if you have an “explanation,” if you hurt others in the process then your reasoning doesn’t matter.

Let’s see if we can come up with a genuine apology to our friend in this example. Here’s what I came up with (and if you want some practice, feel free to think of your own before reading on!): “I’m sorry for being snappy and rude the other day. I realize that what I did was mean, and I’m sure you might’ve been embarrassed or hurt. It was wrong of me to treat you like that, and I never want to make you feel that way again. Is there anything I can do to make it up to you?” And that’s perf! This now opens up the floor for your friend to say, “Yeah, I did feel really hurt by that, but it’s cool” or “Okay, but how come you were rude? was there a reason?” or even “Actually, that isn’t why things have been different between us lately, it’s really because…” Here is where you can have a wider discussion about what caused you to lash out or a different problem that arises. And remember, if you truly value this person, it shouldn’t be you vs. your friend, but you and your friend vs. the problem.

It’s worth mentioning that sometimes, you’re not going to get the answer you want. Not every apology leads to a total repair of the problem, and if your transgression was large enough, they may not forgive you at all. And although that absolutely sucks, you’re not automatically owed forgiveness just because you apologized. If this situation arises, do NOT begin to think (or say, especially not to mutual friends, for crying out loud) that “I said sorry so what’s their problem??” Let this be a learning moment for you and allow others to heal how they want to.

Of course, apologies are like fake eyelashes – trim to fit. If you catch yourself saying something nasty in the midst of a convo, feel free to pause and say “Hold, that comment was out of pocket and a totally inappropriate thing to say. sorry, won’t happen again.” Modify our format as needed. Once you know how to apologize, owning up to your mistakes becomes a LOT easier. A crappy apology is like a Bandaid that falls off within the hour, while a good one is like getting wrapped at the trainers.’

Now go say “I’m sorry” to the people in your life that you need to apologize to! I’ll be waiting right here. That’s all for now; so until next time, stay woke!