In a recent blog post, I said that I thought there were three key mantras for living: saying please, saying thank you and tidying up after yourself.
After I had written it, I realised I had forgotten one other important thing: saying sorry.
I learned this in a superficial way when I was a sub-editor on The Cape Argus.
I had laid out a page containing a photograph by a famous, award-winning and mercurial photographer. Something was wrong (I can’t remember now – I used the wrong picture? He didn’t get a byline? The caption was wrong?) and he was very cross. He arrived at my desk and shouted at me. I said I was sorry (and I was: I had failed at a part of my job). He shouted some more. I said I was sorry. He shouted a bit more. I said I was sorry. He went away.
From that experience, I learned that saying sorry defuses a tense situation. If I had tried to defend my action, we would both have ended up shouting. I used it as a tool in many subsequent situations, particularly as a manager. Admitting my own mistakes was always a good start to solving problems.
But an apology is more than a tool to manage difficult situations.
I learned the deeper meaning of saying sorry when I entered the world of parenting.
My son and I have similar natures and we have often clashed. I learned early on that fighting with him made me feel terrible, and that the only way to remedy that was to figure out where I had gone wrong. And then to go to him and sincerely, profoundly tell him what I had done wrong, and offer my apology.
Humans get things wrong
A long time ago, a book called Love Story famously contained this line: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”
I’m am here to say the exact opposite: real love means you are going to be saying sorry a lot.
Human relationships are messy affairs, and all human beings get things wrong, most of the time. Before an apology comes the ability to recognise when you have been in the wrong, and to be able to admit to yourself and everyone involved that you got it wrong.
And the key to keeping things on an even keel is a heartfelt apology, based on your own admission of your failure.
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