It feels these days I’m saying “sorry” almost as much as I am saying “please” or “thank you.” I apologize when someone bumps into me, when I get too excited, even when a waiter brings me the wrong dish at a restaurant. Saying “sorry” has become my reflex for whenever things are inconvenient — and it’s become too easy for me to say. So when I truly had to say, “I’m sorry” to a friend, the words felt empty for a reason I couldn’t pinpoint, until an amazing group of 8-year-olds taught me why.
Each morning during the summer, our campers met in their bunks to have mishpacha (family) time to discuss the day’s schedule and a Jewish value. One morning I sat with a Chaverim girls’ bunk that was struggling to get along. Their counselors proposed saying “sorry” to each other and moving on, so everyone could have a good week. The girls were not convinced. “I’m sorry” doesn’t mean anything,” said one camper. I was taken aback by this statement. “I’m sorry” was my catch phrase; how could it not mean anything?
Thus began a conversation about asking for forgiveness verses apologizing. These wise children taught me that asking for forgiveness involves admitting to making a mistake, while saying “sorry” can diminish the offended person’s emotions because of the expectation for immediate forgiveness. Exoneration is a process. Ultimately, forgiveness must be rooted in kavod (respect) and chesed (kindness). My mind was blown after spending the morning with these 12, 8-year-old girls.
I’ve taken this conversation to heart. I now think more deeply when using the phrase “I’m sorry” with my husband, friends, co-workers, and even my dog (who typically can do no wrong). I now stop to really reflect on what I’ve done wrong and how to avoid doing it again.
As we begin the New Year, I’m challenging myself, and all of you, to not hand out empty apologies. And, I’m whole-heartedly working on replacing “I’m sorry” for “thank you” and “excuse me.” Let’s use 5780 to give each other the grace of making mistakes and the time to properly atone for them.