Sorry is hands down the most overused word in the world. People say ‘Sorry’ for literally, not figuratively, but literally everything, no matter their feelings, if things are even slightly not quite right. 

This has massively devalued the word and its meaning. It has also created a generation of sociopaths who don’t know how to apologize, how to learn, or how to improve. 

The point of an apology is to recognize and acknowledge a mistake, to learn from said mistake, and to take action towards not repeating said mistake.

‘Oh sorry!’ When you step on someone’s foot, is acknowledging the mistake. Enwrapped in that is supposed to be the honest hope that if I acknowledge my mistake that you will forgive my mistake and feel better, even though I just hurt you. 

We lump ‘Sorry’ and ‘Forgive me’ into one phrase: ‘Sorry’ without realizing the worth of the accident or even really realizing what we are saying. 

Sorry, on its own, is a feeling. It’s the combined emotion of sadness, regret, and loss.  

Saying ‘Sorry’ is like saying ‘Happy’. Yes. Good job. You have identified a word which describes an emotion. That, in and of itself, is not an apology. It’s actually the opposite. 

Literal translation: I stepped on your foot. Let me tell you that I am sad and regret that I stepped on your foot. 

This, my friends, is a colloquialism. We take a word and we put in into a social context relative to the time and place in the world where it is socially understood. 

Colloquialisms are great. We use them daily. What’s not great is the fact that most people don’t know this. What’s not great is that most people who say ‘Sorry’ for every little gawd damn thing does not mean the ‘Literal Translation”. They don’t mean that they have sad and regret. 

What they are actually saying is… well, nothing. They’re making a sound as a placeholder in a sentence, because they think they should, even though they think or feel nothing. They aren’t saying anything. They are saying filler. Sorry has become a filler word, something to say when we don’t know what to say, and that’s not an apology. 

‘My bad’, another colloquialism, is almost better to say in this context as it at least means what it means. ‘My bad’ acknowledging that I did a thing that was wrong. It’s not also asking for forgiveness, per say, but as a colloquialism, we usually understand through body language that an apology is apart of the statement. 

Using ‘I’m sorry’ in the context of an apology needs to come with more identifiers than just those words. “I’m sorry I stepped on your foot.” is okay. “I’m sorry I stepped on your foot. Forgive me?” is better. “Oh! I wasn’t watching where I was going! Are you okay? I’ll try and pay more attention to where I’m going.” is the best. In the last one we acknowledged the incident. Truthfully, we aren’t sad or regretful about it. It was a mistake. Mistakes happen. That said, it happened, and we want to know if we can help. That’s the asking if you’re okay. It implies that I’ll help if you need it. And lastly, I establish that I’ve seen the mistake, learned from it and will put effort into improving so I don’t make the same mistake again. Total win!

I love to use ‘sorry’ when I actually feel it. “I’m sorry you’re feeling hurt.” is much better than ‘I’m sorry I hurt you.” “I’m sorry I said something mean to you which caused your feelings to be hurt. Is there anything I can do to make it better? I will try not to say mean things.” See?

An apology is:

Identifying mistakes.

Fixing mistakes.

Improvement to not make the same mistakes again. 

My new favorite is: “I hear you.” When someone tells me I’ve done something wrong, ie. made a mistake, hurt someone’s feelings, destroyed something, misspoke, whatever… I try to listen to them, to give them my full attention. Then I repeat back what they said to me to make sure I didn’t miss anything [this is paramount. We often misinterpret things. Repeating back ensures both parties fully understand what is being discussed] and that I understood them right, and then I acknowledge that I have heard them. Sometimes, when I feel regret, I might add a ‘sorry’ but it will include an ‘I’m sorry that I have caused you this kind of pain. It was not my intention to hurt you.” I identify what I’m sorry for and why. I’ll often add a request for forgiveness. “Can you see that I wasn’t trying to hurt you and please try and forgive me for my mistake?”

These kinds of apologies go a long way and they often root respect in the other person, as they feel heard, understood and like they’ve helped make a change. 

An apology without change is just manipulation.