- Melanie Meehan
- I taught for several years at a residential school for children with emotional disabilities before staying home after the birth of my second daughter. I returned to teaching, finished my Educational Leadership program in May of 2012, and now work as our district's Writing and Social Studies Coordinator. I have always loved writing and find constant inspiration from my family. Maybe someday, I will get to see my name on the cover of a book!
Thursday, March 20, 2014
Day #20: Thoughts on I'm Sorry
Today is Day #20 of the 2014 SOLC hosted by twowritingteachers.wordpress.com.
Several years ago, we were on vacation with another family and their seven-year old smacked their nine year-old, sending her sprawled out on the deck. There were tears, there was yelling, then there was the mandated apology. When it became clear to the smacker that she would not re-enter the group until two words came out of her mouth, she relented.
"I'm sorry," she growled, her eyes squinted, her forehead wrinkled, her head shaking side to side.
I don't think she meant it.
Today, after school, the children who stay after school for the extended day program were in line by the bathroom. I have no idea what had happened, but one of the boys was crying angry looking and sounding tears. Two other boys stood nearby with narrowed eyes and tucked chins.
"Just say you're sorry," the young woman who was apparently in charge was saying to the crying boy. "Then we can forget about it."
I've given a lot of thought to apologies over the years between Margaret's growl and this young man's situation. One of my favorite pieces about apologies is the chapter in The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. He offered a three step formula for apologies, consisting of I'm sorry, here's what I did, and here's how I will make it better. I love that apology formula for when a person really means it. But what if they don't?
A few years ago, I was embroiled is an issue with Julia and the rage was stoked even redder by her refusal to say sorry. "You actually are telling me to lie, Mom," Julia said.
Right in the moment, I was in no frame of mind to stop and reflect, but clearly, I've thought about this statement since. What if you say you're sorry but you're really not? Isn't that not telling the truth? How is that not a lie? She had a point.
I'm thinking that there are categories of apologies, although I am not sure how many there are, and I'm open to additional nominations.
1. The "I was made to say it" apology. Here's the one that they boy in the hallway might say and definitely the one that Margaret squeezed out. I do not think that the skills learned in this sort of circumstance transfer to any sort of positive interaction. In fact, I suspect that forced apologies lead to some really hostile behavior when those involved are unsupervised. My authenticity rating: 1
2. There's the "I need to get on with life" apology. This is the one that is given when a sister borrows a shirt without asking and the the affront is discovered during school hours. My authenticity rating: 3
3. The "It's easier to say sorry than to deal with the real issue" apology. Sometimes my husband doles these out, but he rarely gets away with it. He would rather say he's sorry than talk about the fact that he needed a lot of reminders to stop watching basketball and help in the kitchen. (I write this lovingly...)
My authenticity rating: 5
4. The "I just can't say sorry, but actions speak louder than words." There are a couple of specialists of this type under my roof. We have an unspoken agreement that sometimes these can count as the real thing. My authenticity rating: 9
5. The "My stomach hurts and my legs are wobbly and I might not sleep well because I know that I messed up and I feel really bad about it" apology. These are the ones that lead to the three part apology described by Randy Pausch. These apologies happen when someone's behavior has unwittingly caused serious hurt and I don't know that everyone really feels the sensation that I've described. Empathy is at the core of these interactions. My authenticity rating: 10
The bottom line is that I really don't believe in forced or fake apologies. I believe in teaching children of all ages the importance of taking responsibility for hurtful behavior, whether the hurt is physical or emotional. I believe in teaching children that when they say sorry and mean it, that statement can go a long way in repairing a situation. And, I believe in coaching children how to express a meaningful apology. But I don't believe in asking for, demanding, or mandating a vacant declaration of two words that is at best a pathway of least resistance and, at worst, is a lie and a potential pathway to more destructive behavior.
I will say that Margaret has grown into a really great young woman, although I can't attest to her apology skills. And, tonight, I'd guess that the crying boy in the hallway said sorry and eventually stopped crying. However, I doubt that he has forgotten about it.
Would welcome others' thoughts on "I'm sorry"!