Are We Really Sorry?

Outward Mindset Apr 12, 2021

During one of the team discussions, a colleague asked, "What behaviors do you tolerate in your close ones but can't stand in the case of others?" I responded how I can't take it when someone says "sorry," and yet they keep repeating the same behavior for which they're apologetic. Another colleague was intrigued by my response, and they asked, "Do you think saying sorry is driven by behavior change or mindset change?" I have been thinking about the question ever since.

When we say "sorry," do we mean it? Let’s look into it with my example. I usually have a problem managing my time. I get to places late by 10-15 minutes at the least. I apologize duly, but guess what? I get late again the next time. I have always been aware that I need to work toward managing my time better, but I have not been able to take concrete actions to change my ways. What comes naturally to me is feeling guilty and apologizing for being late. Yet, now I'm convinced that all the while I was saying sorry and getting late again the next time, I wasn't really sorry for doing so. I felt justified in my being late for one reason or another, and it is far from being a mindset change.

I have also seen people in my family and friend circle making hurtful comments to each other in anger and apologizing in the aftermath. A few days down the line, I found them doing the same thing again. If we feel justified in hurting someone again after apologizing for the very same behavior a few days ago, did we ever mean to apologize?

What's worse, we start thinking of ways to correct the other person- in that very moment or immediately after apologizing to them. Why does this happen? It happens because of our self-deception (a problem of not knowing that we have a problem or that we could be contributing to the very same problem that we're so blatantly complaining about). Recall a wearisome situation with your partner, a time when you both got into an argument. Maybe you were torn- whether you should risk making things worse by venting out your frustrations or say sorry and end the problem right there. Let's say you chose the latter option. You said sorry. Does that guarantee you might not have had thoughts like- 'Why should I say sorry?' 'They think they're better than me?!' 'Sorry, my foot!' 'The next time, I am going to make them say sorry to me.' Think of the time you apologized to a colleague, a parent, a child, a friend- can you assure that you never had those thoughts with these people as well?

Most of the time, we think that saying sorry can help solve problems, even if we don't genuinely mean it. But, let's be honest with ourselves, and let's try to understand where we're going wrong. When we apologize from a place of insincerity and lack of empathy- others can sense this. Even if our behaviors change, people can figure out that our mindset is pretty much the same. The reason is that the underlying 'mindset' drives the behaviors that we show on the outside. We might deceive ourselves and others once, twice, thrice, but sooner or later, it would be out in the open that we never quite meant what we were showing. Believe me; there's nothing more hurtful than this in any relationship. But why does this happen again? Of course, it boils down to being self-deceptive, and another layer to self-deception is that we start operating with an inward mindset.

With an 'inward mindset,' we begin treating people around us as objects. We see them as lifeless creatures who don't have their own needs, objectives, and challenges. We consider them as vehicles to further our own goals, obstacles to overcome, and irrelevancies to ignore. With an inward mindset, everything we do tends to be about us. Would we enjoy it when someone treats us in either of these ways? Why is it then that we believe someone else would enjoy us treating them in such ways?

We humans dutifully believe that behavior change can change situations for the better. It is generally the underlying philosophy of management training, education (sadly enough), parenting, and even the institution of marriage. In these (and more) areas of life, we follow guidelines to understand 'what to do' and 'what not to do' even though we might be operating with an inward mindset. We almost always forget to think about what we're becoming, all the while we polish our behavior.

Borrowing an idea from the same colleague who asked me about the behaviors I can't tolerate in others- behavior change is analogous to cutting the grass that isn't growing well from its edge while the problem is in the roots (where the mindset lies). The antidote to this behavior change is to question our underlying 'mindset.' Is it that we're operating with an inward mindset? If so, what can help us? An outward mindset. It is the mindset that enables us to see that people around us have lives like us; they're not objects. They also have needs, objectives, and challenges that are as important to them as our own needs, objectives and challenges are important to us. An outward mindset is what makes us human. It helps us foster connections, be grateful for all that we have, and allows us to apologize when we truly mean it for wronging something or someone.

The next time we think we've wronged someone and want to make amends for the same, let's first check our intention. Why is it that we want to apologize? Do we want to say sorry (one more time) just so that we can find a quick fix? Or, do we care enough to understand how our behaviors affect others and therefore assure the other person that we will take steps toward changing ourselves? This simple step should allow us to understand whether we mean apology from an inward or an outward mindset. If it is the former mindset at play, there is no point in apologizing because we do not mean it.


Aprajita Jha

Aprajita Jha is Linchpin at My Emotions Matter and can be reached at [email protected]

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