Wednesday, April 21, 2010

When do you apologize?

I mentioned before that I have my husband thinking in blogs and I absolutely love it! He suggested this blog to me.

Our oldest son is very strong and somewhat big for his age. I feel that sometimes he doesn’t realize the strength he actually does have and may hurt someone without intending to just because of his size. He was playing tackle tennis ball with his friend if that makes any sense. The game was to knock the tennis ball out of the other person’s hand and get it. If they had to tackle each other for it then so be it. Well our youngest son decided to play with them as did the friend’s sister both of which were younger and smaller in size than my son and his friend. First our youngest son gets hurt then the girl gets hurt both by our oldest. My husband and I called our oldest son to have him apologize to his brother and the other girl but he adamantly refused to do so. His point was “they chose to play this game with its rules, I didn’t do anything wrong and I don’t want to apologize.” Of course we were appalled because in our mind it just isn’t right to hit a girl even by accident.

We went in circles around this subject for hours. Our son said that he didn’t hit her, he was playing the game that she chose to be part of and he kept saying that if the same thing had happened to her brother it wouldn’t have been an issue. We tried to tell him that if someone gets hurt by accident then the right thing to do is to apologize. Finally after many threats of taking away everything he came around and had my husband right an apologetic email which her mother read to her. So did we really teach him anything or did he just want to be done with us and keep his brand new baseball cleats?

Ever since I thought about writing this blog I’ve thought about how many times a day we as adults hear or say the words “I’m sorry”. I have to say a lot! “I’m sorry I wasn’t paying attention and didn’t hear you, I’m sorry you don’t feel well, I’m sorry your baby kept you up all night, I’m sorry you’re so stressed at work, I’m sorry your kids are practicing on two different fields the opposite ends of town” and so on.

So here’s the question; do you apologize when in your heart you feel that you’ve done nothing wrong? Do you tell someone you’re sorry for their situation when you really don’t feel bad for them? Do you just say the words to make someone else feel better even if they are not genuine? I would say from personal experience that I would find that very hard to do. I think if someone told me that work was stressful I’d say “I’m so happy for you that you have a job!” I will say that I am sorry the person feels bad if they were sick or had some misfortune happen to them.

I would say though if I need to apologize for something I don't believe I did wrong that would be next to impossible for me to do. So then the questions are 1) if I’m that way then why would I expect my son to do anything different and 2) is this something I need to work on to make myself a better person?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this post. You may leave a comment below, email me to or find me on Facebook by becoming a fan of

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Hoping not to have to say I’m sorry today!


  1. See my status update today:) I know I could be better at letting go of being right. Also, the bullying at school (and in society in general) is getting ever worse. We need to TEACH and encourage our children to be kind and loving. Saying you're sorry for an accident is a way of showing compassion and concern. I don't think of it as not being true to myself when I check in with someone else and show them compassion. For heaven's sake, sometimes it's not about ME! I don't think it is ever wrong to tell someone who is hurting, for whatever reason, that you are sorry they're feeling that way.

    Peace and love to you, Mary. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and stories.


  2. Joelle,

    I am constantly trying to find new ways to meditate with my kids. I heard something that said if all kids meditated 10 minutes a day from the age of five and on then by the time their generation were adults all violence would be eradicated. I loved that idea plus I love meditating myself. One of the methods I chose for a period of two weeks was to meditate on a word. So we chose words like love, compassion, kindness ... etc, we were quiet while contemplating them and then we discussed how we would exude love or have compassion and so on. It was amazing to me the thoughts my kids came up with. I was also amazed at how my oldest would come home and tell me about how bad he felt for a fellow classmate that was being teased. He would detail to me what happened and genuinely feel bad for that other child.

    The best way to teach my kids compassion, love and kindness is to be compassionate, loving and kind myself which I try to do every minute of the day. I also would love to raise confident boys who value and respect themselves as well as others. With that in mind I feel it then is a balance to make sure that when my son has given me what in his mind is a legitimate scenario where he feels he hasn’t done anything wrong that I need to make sure that I allow him that freedom of expressing himself without squishing his thoughts and bullying him into seeing it my way. That is primarily the reason I have him at a Waldorf school. I totally agree that if he hurt someone by accident he needs to apologize but what if he doesn’t see it my way then what do I do? He eventually did apologize in a way that made him feel good about it and that’s really what I’d like to see. I want to see a genuine apology not a product of me making him do it.

    The thought of bullying at school is a hard one to deal with in any scenario; whether your kid is the bully, being bullied or a bystander observing the whole thing. I do believe communication with all the children might help.

    Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts!
    Take care,

  3. Hi Mary!
    You don’t know me, my name is Maggie, I’m Joelle’s sister-in-law and I stumbled onto your blog question via Joelle’s comment on it on Facebook. I read your blog with great interest. I’m a doctor and this question of when you should apologize actually comes up frequently in medicine. If someone gets hurt, should you apologize? What if it wasn’t your fault? If it wasn’t your fault and you apologize, will that person presume it was your fault because you said, “I’m sorry"? The stakes are raised in medicine because of malpractice lawsuits. There are actually 70 recent articles in medical literature debating this question.

    In the circumstance you described, I think there are two main questions:
    1) Did your son do anything wrong?
    2) Regardless of the answer to #1, should he apologize?

    Thinking about this academically, there are several ethical principles at work here:

    Non-malficence: Do not harm other people.
    Social Justice: Treat people fairly. Protect the vulnerable.
    Autonomy: allow people to make their own decisions.
    The Harm Principle: autonomy may be limited to prevent people from harming others.
    Fidelity/Integrity: be trustworthy/make your actions reflect your values.

    On the first question, your son does not think he was wrong because his brother and friend's sister chose to play the game. I would ask him, “Does it make a difference that they are both younger and weaker than you?” Should he have foreseen that they might get hurt? Does the older/stronger child have a responsibility to avoid participating in a game if there is a good chance the younger, more vulnerable child will get hurt?
    I think in this instance, non-malficence and social justice would support the harm principle – i.e., we shouldn’t play a game with someone we suspect will get hurt by it, even if he agreed to play. We should protect those who are weaker, smaller and more vulnerable than we are.

    Maybe he has never thought of this in just this way, so I can’t argue that he was definitely in the wrong.

    I would argue that he should apologize. If he doesn’t want to say “I’m sorry”, he can express empathy and apologize by saying, “I wish we hadn’t played the game. I wish I had realized you would get hurt. I wish we had played a different game and no one had been hurt.”

    Apologies help those who feel injured by us to heal and allow them the opportunity to forgive. We are helped when we apologize because it brings us back in line with our own self-concepts of having good character, having integrity. You can’t take back your actions/words, but you can mitigate their harm by acknowledging that they caused someone else pain. It can also help repair broken relationships, something your son might want if he wants to play with his brother and friend's sister in the future.

    Thanks for posting such an interesting question - I hope you don't mind me posting a reply!

    Maggie Miller

  4. Maggie,

    I absolutely love this! Your response I have to say is extremely thought provoking for me and I'm glad you posted it. Interestingly enough we talked to him about the same thoughts you proposed such as it doesn’t matter who got hurt and anytime someone gets hurt although by accident it still does make someone feel better that you apologize. We actually told him that we didn't feel that he intentionally hurt anyone but that it would make her feel better if he said he was sorry. It did take him some time to understand the point and the email he crafted stated exactly that; he said that he was sorry she got hurt and he hopes that she felt better. It was something that was important to us for him to understand but next time I won’t necessarily threaten – I do feel that’s where the bullying on our part happened. The other part of the scenario with my son is that he is seven and we always tell him that when he’s playing with such and such a person then it can’t be tackle or the rules change when younger kids are playing. He’s usually pretty good about that but in this specific scenario we hadn’t set those rules for them ahead of time so maybe he doesn’t have that capacity yet to determine some of these things on his own. I would say if he were a few years older the conversation would have been different.

    It's very interesting to me that you wrote about the malpractice issue. This past summer I lost at baby at 20 weeks, the doctor who delivered the baby pulled on the umbilical cord which snapped leaving the placenta inside therefore led to my hemorrhaging, I had to be rushed to the OR, almost lost my life … etc. The doctor came to my room that night to tell me that I shouldn’t ever get pregnant again. When I started healing somewhat I thought that I needed to get to the bottom of that statement because what if I got pregnant by accident then what would I do. To make a long story short none of the doctors I talked to agreed with what she said and when I talked to her partner his words were “she made a mistake by telling you that, she was stressed that she almost lost a patient and that was total fear talking. There is absolutely no validity to her words.” Honestly, those words made me feel really good. They were not necessarily an apology but they were the truth and they were genuine. Maybe you’re right that if I was the type to sue then his words probably gave me what I needed to be able to do so. Actually, I genuinely believe that she did the best she could under the circumstance she was in.

    Thanks so much for reading Maggie and I do hope you visit my blog again. Please let me know what you think when you do!

    Take care,

  5. In my house we encourage apologies not as a way of admitting fault but as a way of showing compassion. Our apologies have three parts: 1.) I am sorry I ______, 2.) I regret hurting you, 3.) How can I make it better?

    The "victim" usually feels better because of the compassion and also because he gets to be in control and have the "offender" do something for him, which is usually humorous for everyone.