Senior Head's Blog: Saying Sorry

One of the most powerful words in the world is 'sorry', but it is also often one of the hardest words for people to use.  Somewhere deep in our reptilian brains, our self-defence function kicks in, and refuses to allow us to admit when we have got something wrong.  Instead, we will point at others, make excuses or seek to lessen what we have done.  It requires deliberate and conscious effort to employ an apology, as anyone who has ever been in an argument will recognise.  



Another barrier to our willingness to apologise is that it can leave us feeling vulnerable, and weakened by what we have said.  The reality is usually very different, though.  A genuine and heartfelt apology, that leads to a change in future behaviour, based on self-reflection, will not only help us to get external forgiveness, but it will also help us to take responsibility for our actions, and to improve as an individual.  From a selfish point of view, a good apology can also give you the moral high ground, as to refuse to accept an apology becomes a failure by the person who was originally wronged.  Think of the footballer who has been fouled, and petulantly refuses the hand shake of the person who committed the foul.  The referee is less likely to use a yellow card on someone who immediately apologises*, while to reject an apology appears petty and small-minded.

In a learning environment, such as a school, the value of an apology is hugely significant.  We all make mistakes, but with teenagers 'hard-wired' to push boundaries and take risks, they tend to make mistakes more frequently, and challenging them to recognise when they have got something wrong, and to consider how they might do things differently is a key part of learning.  A genuine apology is a big step towards that, because it requires proper reflection, and consideration of what has taken place, and how things might be done better in the future.  An apology that is not meant achieves little - I am sorry that I haven't done the work/I am sorry that I was late/I am sorry that I didn't treat you well - but no change of behaviour can sometimes be worse than no apology.  But, when you say sorry, because you have really thought about what you did, and how it impacted others, and even worked out a way not to make the same mistake again in the future, then you have a hugely powerful word, and a strong foundation for better behaviour and a stronger community.  

It is difficult to find good role models for this in public life, because politicians seem so reluctant to admit any failing.  Often, the best that we get is the 'sorry, but' that many of us will have seen in Parliament this week.  Also, in the last week, we have seen Novak Djokovic do all in his power to get into Australia, but failing to take responsibility for the errors in his visa application, and his seeming misdemeanours after testing positive for Covid.  There was little sympathy for his situation among the Australian public, who have endured more lockdowns than almost any other nation on Earth in the last two years.  Nevertheless, whether there are role models showing us the way or not, owning our mistakes, admitting to what we have done wrong, and committing to doing it better in the future is crucial to self improvement, and a characteristic that I would urge all of us to value highly.

Have a very good week.


[* - I accept that most footballers who have committed a foul may not be offering heart felt apologies, but seeking to avoid getting a yellow card - a tactic that I did employ at times when I used to play football myself!]