When you don’t have the words – learning to apologize

“I’m sorry.” Just two words that make some of us start to sweat.

But without being able to express regret, we lose touch with those we love. We can’t wipe our slate clean and just find new family or friends. It’s inevitable that, within minutes, we will mess up again. The only way to clean things up – to stay connected with one another – is to apologize.

Here’s my thinking. We all need scripts in our lives. We learn how to greet and how to say good-by. We learn how to thank. To invite. To console. To ask for forgiveness. But it is so much more than the words, isn’t it? It’s matching body language, tone of voice, pace – it all has to work together. As adults we easily sniff out insincerity or sarcasm. There is a lot to learn but rarely are these important conversations taught or even discussed. Instead, most kids simply repeat what they see and hear at home. For most, this system works beautifully. But for some …

Kids growing up in imperfect homes may not even be aware of the need to apologize (or many other social or relationship skills). They can appear awkward and be labeled as rude or insensitive. They get marginalized at the starting gate. But it’s just that they don’t have the words or the choreography – yet.

I recently watched The Wedding March 3, a Hallmark movie. In it we see characters wrestle with their impulse to make the ones they love conform to what they want them to be. But they learn – and they try to make it right. Apologies abound. The movie’s subtitle could easily be The Apology Movie – but I know that wouldn’t sell.

There was one particular scene when the main character, Mick, knocks on his sister’s door and quietly asks, “Can I come in?” For most of the movie he had been frustrated with her – upset by the man she was choosing to marry. “I want to apologize. I’ve been making this all about me. It’s your life – and I just want to be a part of it.” All beautiful. His sister then says, “Mick, you need to stop trying to control things.” Mick replies. “I know.” Absolutely no defensiveness or excuses. No change in body language. Just acceptance. Without it … well, the words don’t mean much, right?

I had never seen a beginning-to end-apology portrayed so clearly and succinctly. In under a minute we have a primer – a how-to – for an essential interaction. Of course there can be lots of variations, but as a starter kit, it was all there.

Can we imagine a world where kids can somehow see and be comfortable with those relationship building exercises that they have yet to experience in their own lives? To see that some people hug when they greet. And here’s how. Or that mistakes are okay – and forgivable. Or that quiet voices can carry intentions even more effectively than dramatic pleas. You know – a perhaps kinder gentler world than the one they are in. Something they can watch and rewatch like a favorite song? Is there a way?

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