“I’m Sorry” easy to say but not always easy to mean.

“I’m sorry” is how we apologize to people. How we say we made a mistake and we regret it. It could have been a harsh word, a bump in passing, a lie, or any other number of things. We do our best to convey regret for hurting another person and maybe regret for our actions.

“Sorry” has become a word that we say for any little thing. As a Canadian there are meme galore about how your not Canadian until your sorry for being sorry. Sorry has become a filler word we use not to express an apology but to diffuse tensions in a situation. Sorry can be used to take blame for something that may not even be my fault. It can be used to show I would like to move past a situation or disagreement. If you bump into me I’ll say sorry to show you that I’m not mad, hurt, or wanting to escalate the situation.

We say sorry in Canada so much because we hear it and see it so much growing up. Just like other aspects of our culture we learn it by watching our parents and others interact. We see it on television programs. We are also taught explicitly to say sorry in some situations.

I’ve worked in Japan and they have a similar word “Sumimasen”, this word is contently used as an excuse me/I’m sorry. It’s like the Canadian “sorry” it’s used to diffuse tensions and move on. The Japanese also have a word “Gomen” or more formal “Gomen Nasai” these are used more commonly when a person is genuinely apologizing and asking for forgiveness because of their actions.

I’ve now lived in Kuwait for about two years and I’ve never learned the word for sorry. I had to look it up and learned that it was “Asif” for men and “As’Fi” for women. I think this tells you how often you hear the word in Kuwait. Children are not taught to say sorry, boys specifically are taught to hit them back and be a man.

Not being taught that their actions are wrong or to apologize is having a lasting effect on the culture. We notice everyday at school that no one wants to teach upper grades (again especially boys) because they are rude, aggressive, and unapologetic. They constantly fight with, spit at, and talk down to people.

I watch as my boys are picked up after school by hired drivers and nannies and without so much as a hello drop their bags and run off into the crowd of people to find friends or siblings. This leaves their adult caretaker having to pick up their bag and chase after the child. If I catch them doing this I will grab my student and hold their hand while they say hello and nicely give their bag to the adult. While I think the student should be responsible for their bag I understand that their caretaker is being paid to do things like carry the bags and I don’t want to get them in trouble, I just want the boys to be more polite. Not all my boys are like this, some are sweet and polite and genuinely wonderful boys.

You can see the results of attitudes like this in class also, they put their garbage on the floor and can’t pack their own bags. The maid cleans up after them and pack their bags. I have the boys clean up the class at the end of the day by picking up something to put in the garbage before they line up to go home. If someone throws garbage on the floor rather than in the garbage I have them clean the classroom of all the things that have been dropped. I think I’m teacher responsibility for one’s self. I’ve had parents come in and tell me that their son is not a maid and can not clean the class, very offended that I made him clean up the floor after he spit on it. I told the parent that I’m not their maid and I am not cleaning up after their child, they must learn to do it for themselves.

When boys get into fights at recess or in class they are made to say sorry and shake hands. This really does nothing. The word sorry means nothing to them, they could be saying I hate you in the same breath as the word sorry they way they continue to act. Sorry is the word the teacher forces them to say and once they say it they get to go play again. There is no forgiveness in the word sorry. They always remember and are waiting to get back at the person they are mad at.

It’s slow going to make sorry mean something to my boys and it’s not reinforced at home so little changes despite my efforts.

In my experiences around the world I have found that “Sorry” is a very easy word to say but much more difficult to mean. Children have to be explicitly taught what the word means and how to use it. They have to understand it’s weight and importance. They also have to understand forgiveness and regret. It takes time and maturity but children can learn how important this word is to them and to the people they say it to. If you tell people you are sorry you should be prepared to mean it and move past whatever happened. You should also be prepared for the fact the other person does not have to forgive you, they may not be ready to do that.