Just Tell Your Brother You’re Sorry…

I have a mess of childhood memories of being told to “say you’re sorry.”
Sometimes it was “tell your sister you’re sorry”, sometimes “tell your brother you’re sorry”…
On one occasion, it was writing a letter of apology to my my grandparents.  I was to let them know I was sorry for being part of a loud, playful ruckus that, incidentally, ended when I whacked my head on a pointy bit of their natural-wood coffee table and, these sorts of childhood rites-of-passage being what they are, bled profusely.
On one hand, I imagine the lessons my mother was trying to teach were intended to have some relationship to remorse and forgiveness.
On the other hand, they largely became painful excursions into shame, guilt and humiliation that didn’t have much to do with the finer points of remorse – and nothing to do with the rich, complex and nuanced world of forgiveness.
No parent is perfect – and I’d be lying if I didn’t cop to demanding, on more than one occasion, that my son “go say you’re sorry!” to someone, just as my mother did with me – before giving him the time and space to really look at what he had done and the impact it had…
Seeking and offering forgiveness have the potential to be powerful, life-altering and life-affirming acts, and…
The culture, whether family, educational, religious, etc., can muddy the waters in ways that – at best – diffuse the potential power of forgiveness and – at worst – foster the kinds of shame and humiliation I experienced.
I want to highlight a few cheap, easy and, to my mind at least, potentially nasty spiritual by-passes that, in the name of forgiveness, live in our language and are often tossed around without much thought:

  • “Forgive and forget…”


  • “Just say you’re sorry and move on” or “Just move on…”


  • “It’s all good…”


  • “I forgive them because they were just doing their best…”


  • “It’s been a year, just forgive them and get over it…”

We could take a deep dive into any one of the statements above and/or come up with a bunch more and look at each one in detail – but I’d rather offer a few points for you to chew on, then refer you to a series of articles I stumbled across whilst doing some research on the topic:

  • As one of my mentors says, “People are always forgivable – however, there are acts and behaviors that are absolutely unforgivable.”


  • Forgiveness requires a level of acceptance of fact, it does not require – nor imply – any level of approval.


  • The human mind is not very good at forgetting – and when one has either deeply hurt another or been deeply hurt by another, “forgetting” can become an impossibly difficult, potentially dangerous thing to do.


  • Forgiveness of one’s self may well be the toughest, deepest and most important work one can engage in.


  • Forgiveness, like any other healing process, has an important time component to it.

And with that, I’ll turn you over to some great material from the folks over at the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, because I think they just nail it beautifully!
Start here and enjoy the exploration:  What is Forgiveness?
Oh, and please do let me know what you discover!