It’s interesting the things that come to mind when you’re busy with life.
Recently I was looking after my four children at home (the eldest is almost seven, the youngest is not yet two) and I had to break up an argument. It was your typical “he said, she said, he did, she did” sort of affair, and ended up with son number two apologising to his sister with all the sincerity of a footballer caught having an affair or a business caught exploiting their customers. He knew what he was supposed to say, so he said it, even though he didn’t mean it.
I went to chastise him for his attitude, and stopped.
And I thought to myself…
“Why did he do that? Why do WE do that, as men?”
A sorry you don’t mean isn’t a sorry at all
When was the last time you said sorry without real sincerity?
For most of us, it was probably sometime in the last week, if not in the last 24 hours. I know that I do it at times, often without even thinking about it… it’s almost instinctive, like swatting an annoying bug. There’s an emotional interaction where I feel like I’m being viewed as the one in the wrong, and so I say “I’m sorry” reflexively to smooth the situation over.
Except that, in most cases, it doesn’t really do that.
In most cases, we use it as an avoidance tactic, to get out of having to deal with the issue properly. If I say sorry to my wife for looking at a pretty lady walking down the street, but I do it again and again, am I really sorry? Or am I simply trying to manipulate the situation so that I can be selfish and continue in my behaviour? Maybe I say sorry for yelling when I should have controlled my temper but didn’t, or I say sorry for not doing a chore I’ve been asked to do but didn’t want to do.
In these cases, I’m not really sorry. I’m being selfish and trying to get away with it, even when I’ve been caught out.
To say sorry (genuinely) is to express regret
Back to the interaction with my children now, and how it panned out.
I pulled them both into my lap, and I explained to them why what he had done was wrong, and asked my daughter how it had made her feel. She shared her emotions, and in that safe space, son number two took them in. He thought about it, and gave her a hug, and again said sorry… but this time, he meant it. She forgave him, and things (mostly) worked out.
He expressed genuine regret, after realising the results of his actions.
He realised that he had damaged the relationship with his sister, and what that meant.
I’m not going to say that they don’t argue any more, of course they do, they’re kids! But now, they’re a little more thoughtful, a little wiser, and a little more careful with each other’s hearts.
I’m also not going to say that I don’t reflexively say “I’m sorry” anymore. I’m an imperfect man, living in an imperfect world.
But I try to consider others, and to be responsible for my actions. I try to think about how what I do can affect others, and when I make a mistake in that, even if I don’t think that I’m necessarily at fault, I accept my part of the relationship damage, and I apologise with sincerity (especially if the damage is because of insincerity!)
This week’s Lovework is to think through what it would mean if you were genuinely sorry for the things you have done that have hurt others, and begin to put those life changes in place.
Maybe it’s in how you speak to them. Maybe it’s in how you choose to use your time, money, or energy. Whatever the case, we all have things we can do to show those that we love, that we are truly and genuinely sorry for our failures. Remember that it is in genuine regret that we can begin to restore damaged relationships, especially towards our partners and children, and those closest to us.
Yours for restored relationships,
Ben is a father of four and a devoted husband who hails from Armidale in rural NSW. He is currently studying ministry and is a keen advocate for men’s issues at a local, national, and international level.