In a popular movie of 1970, a famous actress tells her boyfriend Ryan O’Neal, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” A couple of years later, he was in another hit movie, where another famed actress tells him the same line, and he responds “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”
I agree more with the second one.
People say they’re sorry all the time, and even though they may not truly mean it at a deep level, it’s usually appreciated. You interrupt a conversation with, “Sorry to bother you, but…” and it’s accepted. Or you bump into someone accidentally, and say “Oh, sorry!” Now do you truly, in these situations, feel deep sorrow about your action? Of course not. It’s not that big a deal. It’s just nice to say.
But with bigger deals, it’s often far more important – and more difficult – to express sorrow and remorse. To feel and relay it to a degree that changes how others look at you.
This issue got on my mind recently, due to some international political scandals I heard about. On May 20, 2020, a world leader attended a party while making rules that people should stay in and not go to parties. In November of that year, another leader did just the same thing. And both then lied when they were caught! And both got in trouble for their hypocrisy. But today, one of them is hugely popular, while the other might well be dumped by his own party. What’s the difference?
I’d argue it’s all about apology.
In May of 2020, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson, attended a party at his home, while pushing the people of his nation to, in caution against the Coronavirus, not even attend funerals, much less parties just for fun. When asked about the party, he said he hadn’t even known about it. Then he was forced to admit he’d actually been there.
Then six months later, the governor of California, Gavin Newsom, attended a dinner at a fancy restaurant, while he was pushing the people of his state to stay home and not go to restaurants. When asked about it, he admitted going, but said that everyone had safely stayed outdoors. Then when press photos of him showed that he was sitting under an indoor chandelier, he had to admit he’d been inside.
Two lying politicians, hypocritical about the rules they expected others to follow. So what’s the difference?
Mr. Newsom began apologizing at once. And then, for the next year, he constantly kept doing so, saying what he’d done was stupid, and made a strong point of not making a mistake like that again.
Meanwhile, Mr. Johnson continued to avoid talking about that party, and has been caught at others, including a celebratory one the night before his nation’s Prince’s funeral! Finally this week he apologized for the 2020 party to Parliament, and for the recent one to their Queen.
Both politicians have faced public fury, and attempts from their opposition parties to replace them in office. In Mr. Newsom’s case, it even led to a special election. But by that time, he’d apologized enough, and shown his better qualities in contrast to his opponent’s ideas, and won a greater percentage of the vote than in the election that had originally given him the job.
While, in Mr. Johnson’s case, many members of his own party are calling for him to resign immediately.
Again, I’m not trying to say either one is a total hero or total villain here. Both showed stupidity and arrogance in the first place. But one eventually handled it right, and the other didn’t. And as Mr. Newsom approaches his originally-scheduled battle for re-election, no member of his opposition party has even yet publicly announced they want to run!
What’s the difference between the two? Mr. Newsom might just be saying and doing the things he ought to, but he appears to be legitimately sorry he went to that party, and to see how hurtful it was to the people of his state. While Mr. Johnson appears to only be admitting his fault to get out of trouble, nearly two years later, in a way that no one believes.
Now I’ll give another couple of examples of what I’m talking about, a bit closer to home: These are about me!
For the first few years I lived with Handsome, I tore up, chewed, or broke more things in his home than I can count – from windows to album covers to plumbing to furniture. And, young and headstrong, I could see that he was upset about them but didn’t really care all that much. Sure I wanted him to be happy with me, but that was about it.
But as I got older, I wanted to be more careful. To stop disappointing him. To be more of a partner.
But things happen. And sure enough, one day I was near a window when a neighbor I loved to bark at walked by. I jumped up to let him know I saw him and wasn’t going to take that lying down – and knocked over a large potted plant, that shattered onto the floor, spilling dirt everywhere.
Handsome heard the noise and ran into the room, and stopped when he saw it, “oh NO!” he yelled at the mess.
Now, again, I’d done things far worse, but not at this stage in my life. I felt just awful! I bowed my head into the floor, my eyes squeezed shut, full of remorse and pain.
And what did Handsome do? Oh you can guess. His heart just melted. He came and hugged me and murmured, “Oh sweetie, it was only a plant. I can clean it up. It’s fine.”
And it was.
A year or two later, a friend of his, one of my favorites, was at our place. I’d brought her a stuffed toy, and she was playing tug-of-war with me with it, both having a great time. But then I took a deeper bite to get more of it into my mouth, and accidentally bit her hand. “OWW!” she yelled, and pulled her hand back.
All over again, my heart just broke. I loved this lady (still do). The last thing I’d ever want would be to hurt her, or to make her not want to play with me. So again, my head bowed, my chest hitting the floor, my eyes wanting to shut this truth out completely.
And again, she saw it and knew it was true. She petted me and said “It’s okay, you knucklehead. You just have to be more careful.” And gave me a hug.
Boy did I lick her face clean that day!
The point I’m making in all this is about sincerity. To say you’re sorry is a nice gesture, but to truly feel sorrow over something you’ve done to someone – that means the world.
In an old movie Handsome loves, a character says that apologizing is a sign of weakness. Well, maybe that’s true. Maybe a true apology is telling someone “I’m weakening myself to you, because I feel so bad about what I did.”
I certainly showed weakness about that plant and that toy. And I’m not ashamed of it – I’m proud!
You see, Handsome and his friend both gained respect for me when I did that. And Mr. Newsom gained respect from the people of his state when he came clean about that stupid party. Maybe Mr. Johnson can gain some respect from this too – althought it might be too late for that.
So my doggy advice, if you find yourself in a situation where you should apologize?
- Apologize as soon as you can. Right away is best.
- Don’t say anything you don’t mean. Just tell your heart’s truth.
- Don’t make excuses. (Mr. Johnson, in his speech to Parliament, said he’d only been at that party for “25 minutes.” So? Who cares whether he broke his own rule for five minutes or five hours? It just made him sound insincere.)
- Don’t ask for forgiveness, at least not yet. That’s immediately asking the person you hurt to do something for you! If they don’t forgive you, you can ask later, but don’t make that part of the apology.
- And for crying out loud, don’t just go back and do the same thing again!
If you can master these, your apology has a great chance of being accepted. And with that, your life will be able to move on from whatever it was you did.
Because in truth, love often IS saying you’re sorry. And meaning it!