“Sorry, not sorry” is one of those expressions that makes me feel old. I don’t get it. Actually, I get it. I just don’t like it.
Professionally, I got to grow up in the addiction treatment world. I treasure that community, the changes I got to part of, and, most importantly, the life lessons that were so generously shared. It’s where I learned the difference between “apologies” and “amends.” And that sometimes “sorry” doesn’t cut it.
You’re Sorry. What’s Next?
I’m not sure that addicts are the only people who need to take a closer look. There are lots of people who say they are sorry but are unwilling to change the offending behavior. It’s meaningless. That’s one of the things that the recovery community has so right: folks are advised to steer clear of anything resembling an apology until they are fairly certain they will not repeat the behavior for which they are apologizing.
What’s an apology and when should one be sorry? When apologizing we express regret — sometimes even sorrow or sadness — for something said or done. We express regret for offending, insulting, or otherwise failing a group or another individual. That makes sense when we are aware of what we’ve done and are reasonably sure we can follow through by not repeating the offending behavior.
“Sorry” gets old when it is hollow and when it is repeated along with with the bad behavior.
What Will it Take to Make This Right?
Maybe that’s why I like the concept of amends so much better: the focus is not on the sorrow of the actor but on making things right for the injured party. When I am the bad actor, I can ask the person I’ve hurt to define what it will take to improve things. To amend is, by definition, “to change for the better, to improve.” Or, getting down the nitty gritty: words versus deeds.
If you broke, stole or lost something? Repair, return or replace it. That extends to relationships as well.
Sorry – It’s Rotten
I like to remember that, historically, amendments to the Constitution have been put in place to improve and strengthen it. We amend garden soil to nourish and enrich it — often using something rotten in the process. Injuries to those we love, however unintentional, are ingredients of that rotten stuff which, if used well, can be repurposed to help grow something better.
I’ve had a ringside seat to a lot of family drama recently. There must be something in the air: people are talking openly about the family stories that keep them up at night. As I listen and love and try not to advise, I find myself wishing that my friends (or their family members) were in a program of addiction recovery largely because I don’t always know how to share the wisdom of those old-timey pioneers in recovery with others who would benefit from their foresight and compassion. I am reminded that however beautiful our words they can be easily overshadowed by our deeds.
What are your thoughts about apologies versus amends? How do you make the changes that improve and strengthen your relationships with those you love?