Have you ever read the children’s story The Hardest Word by Jacqueline Jules? In the story, a big, clumsy bird constantly knocks into things and one day he knocks over a tree that ruins a garden planted by children. The bird is told that to fix it, he has to find the hardest word. He goes round and round with words like spaghetti and rhinoceros, when finally, he figures out the hardest word is actually SORRY.
What’s interesting here is that SORRY is the hardest word. However, as adults, we over apologize all day long for things that don’t actually require an apology and then our pride gets in the way when an apology is what’s truly called for.
We have all been in the situation when we mindlessly say to a friend ‘sorry, I’m in a bad mood.’ Is that something you really have to be sorry for? You are allowed to be in a bad mood. You do not have to apologize. How about a time when you needed some self-care? “I’m sorry, I really needed to get in a quick run.” Again, you are allowed to have me time, you are allowed to take care of yourself. A waiter brings you your food and it’s not cooked as you specified. Again, this is not a time when we need to say sorry, but so many of us do.
Why is this the case? Often it is to avoid social tension before it happens. We over-use the words ‘I’m sorry’ when we don’t know what to do or say in a certain situation.
We have been trained that we are taking up valuable time by asking questions or unloading on someone, thus feeling the need to apologize for doing so. Other times we apologize for other people’s mistakes or behavior. These are all things that are outside of us and not within our control, thus do not necessitate a sorry.
In different circumstances, for example, when we hurt someone, it can be hard to come to the table and say, “I messed up, I’m sorry.” Our pride inhibits us from owning the mistake or hurt we caused. When we are in a situation where we need to say sorry, we become very vulnerable and that is a hard place to be.
As you move through your days and weeks, stop and think about the times you are saying the hardest word, sorry. Are you sorry in the way it is defined in the dictionary: feeling distress, especially through sympathy with someone else’s misfortune? Or are you sorry out of habit for things that do not require you to apologize?