As my Jewish sisters and brothers celebrate Yom Kippur today, I reflect on the power of atonement - taking responsibility for our actions and making repairs. It's about saying "I'm sorry" in a way that actually means something; that actually does something.
Saying sorry is both over and underused, I have noticed. And both are seriously problematic.
Some people go through life with little regard for the fact that they are sharing the planet with others (see Donald Trump). These are the people who are live their life leading with "No" instead of "Yes"; Control instead of Acceptance. They cut people off. They say mean things. They generally disregard others as human. Because they don't prioritize seeing other people as people, they feel no need to be remorseful. No need to stand up and take responsibility for the fact that they have hurt another human. They don't often feel the need to say sorry.
Some people say sorry a lot! I'm not talking about real apologies. I am talking about the folks who say "Sorry" every time they don't return your phone call, or when they make a mistake in a presentation, or when they are confused by something you just said. I reluctantly call this the "girl sorry." The kind of sorry that is not actually attached to having done anything wrong. The "I'm sorry" we want to say as soon as we open our mouths...just in case we might do or say the "wrong thing" in the "wrong way" at "the wrong time." I call this the "girl sorry" because this kind of non-apology sorry plagues us girls and women. It's the sorry that is apologizing for our whole existence.
Whether it's under apologizing or over apologizing, neither of these practices have anything to do with actual atonement. Atonement or apology is an essential say yes practice in that it allows us to recognize the humanity in all people, look our actions dead in the face - especially those actions we aren't proud of - and make a choice to repair the situation that you have caused.
It's time that all of us learn how to get better at saying I'm sorry. Here's the simple 3 step process I use to break down how to make a meaningful apology for the girls in our camp:
1. Own it
Name what you did and take responsibility for your actions without making excuses. i.e. “I’m sorry that I broke your toy.”
2. Feel it
Use empathy to show you understand how your actions made the person feel. “You must have felt very sad when it broke.”
3. Fix it
Repair the situation either with an action you can do now or what you promise to do differently next time. I.e. “I will ask my mom if I can buy you another one. If I can’t, I will give you a toy of mine that you like to play with.”
We can coach our girls...
...who tend to under apologize how to recognize that they are part of a group and get better at feeling when they have hurt someone. I have actually led experiences where girls are instructed to walk around a small space without bumping into each other. All the while I am side coaching, "Notice other people around you. You are not the only one in this space." Of course bumping happens - these are just small mistakes. However, if a girl is overpowering with her actions; taking up space in a way that can actually hurt people, knock people down, then we stop the exercise and guide her through the above steps.
We can also remind our over apologizer to reserve their sorrys for when they actually make a mistake that hurts someone.
Me: Hey Go Girl! Will you please bring me that piece of paper?
Go Girl!: Here you go.
Me: Actually, I meant the other piece of paper. The one with the lines.
Go Girl!: Oh! Sorry!
Me: Please don't say you're sorry. You only need to apologize when you do something that hurts someone. Do you think you hurt me?
Go Girl!: No.
Me: Do you think you hurt my paper?
Go Girl! (giggles): No.
Me: Do you think you hurt my dog?
Go Girl! (even more giggles): No.
Me: Then don't apologize. Got it?
Go Girl!: Got it.