Sunday 26 May 2019

Saying Sorry

Today is marked in Australia as "National Sorry Day". In the 1960s, many indigenous Australian children [Aborigines] were forcibly taken from the families and given up for adoption.
This was an awful thing  - but it took 30 years for a report [Bringing them home] to be published- exposing the evil things which were done in the name of 'child protection'.
Since the report was published, this day has been an annual opportunity for reconciliation, and meeting together of the different groups involved. A chance for working together, building stronger relationships, and other healing initiatives.
I do not know how it works - or what has happened to those children now they are grown up. Reading about it has made me think again about what it means to say "Sorry"
Often when I was teaching children and spotted one doing something they shouldn't, I would call their name across the classroom or playground. "Sorry Miss!" would come the response. They had no idea why I had called them, but figured they must be in the wrong, and if they said Sorry! fast enough, then they'd avert punishment or further problems.
Poor kids - that was the worst thing they could say, as it guaranteed they would get a five minute lecture on Mrs Almond's Rules For Saying Sorry which went something like this...

  1. Never say sorry! until you understand what you have actually done wrong
  2. Never say sorry! until you know exactly why the other person is upset
  3. Never say sorry! unless you truly mean it
  4. Never say sorry! unless you intend to not do this thing again
  5. Never say sorry! until you know what you can do to help put things right
  6. Never say sorry, but... You must not put conditions on your repentance. 
  7. Even if you've done wrong, and you do say sorry!, and really mean it, there is no guarantee that the other person will forgive you.**
to clarify
  1. don't use quick, general purpose apologies like a 'Get out of Jail Free' Card. They are meaningless
  2. was it your thoughtless or unkind words, your mean or careless actions, deliberate or accidental damage, forgetfulness - just how have you upset this person? You need to acknowledge your fault before you can feel sorry for it.
  3. insincere words mean nothing
  4. genuine repentance means planning to change your ways in future
  5. genuine repentance includes an attempt at the best reparation you can offer
  6. "I'm sorry I broke your possession, but it's your fault for leaving it there" isn't saying sorry at all, it is saying "It is your fault this happened, so I don't need to apologise"
  7. Not being forgiven is hard to live with 
I have been surprised, and encouraged, by the number of times I have said these things to children in the playground, and they have responded really positively. Even better, I've heard them explaining the rules to other children later. It really does help them build better relationships.
** except God - he will always forgive those who truly repent.


  1. This is so helpful, Ang. I am very much older than the children you were teaching, but it has still clarified things for me. I am going to make a note of your 7 points.

  2. Great post, Angela and such good information. Thanks for sharing

  3. You might think about sending your list to every health authority complaints manager to read and inwardly digest. Sorry became a totally "Weasel word" when it came to complaint responses. When they were told they had to apologise for whatever dreadful thing had occurred, they turned it back on the complainant saying "I'm sorry that you feel this way..." The more times sorry appeared in the response letter, the more it became devalued and the angrier the complainant became because they knew there was no real feeling or depth behind the word. It was just something to say. As you have mentioned, sorry means nothing if resulting actions don't illuminate that something has changed, that responsibility for the original actions has been accepted and lessons learned.

    I spent over twenty years supporting complainants in the NHS. Sometimes things were resolved and improvements made but they could never reverse the original situation to a point where it could be accepted and understand and be forgiven.

  4. I, too, am going to make a note of those rules for saying sorry! They are so true! How many times have I heard someone say, "I've said sorry, what more do you want?". How about, actually being sorry, not just saying it?


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