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  • Writer's pictureKaren Schwartz

How Do You Say You're Sorry?

If that seems like an easy question for you to answer, I hope it is.


I just had the occasion to say I'm sorry to a student completing her final project for a certification course.  She did good work, but I felt like it needed a little more.  When I asked for it, she not only agreed, she even thanked me for pushing her.  She rushed to get it done in the few days before graduation so she could be finished on time. I didn't realize she had finished and was waiting anxiously for me to respond. On the morning of graduation, I read her extra work and...I asked her for just a little more.


It didn't seem like a lot to me, and I didn't need it to be done before the graduation, but for her, it was the culmination of months of difficult work, days of stress, anxiety over how I would respond, and she ended up breaking down.  She wasn't going to come to the ceremony, didn't want to deal with me anymore. It felt horrible.


I could try to understand why I felt the need to push her for more and my own uncertainty over whether I was in fact asking for too much, but what was clear was that I had caused harm, for really no good reason.  She put her whole self into this difficult program, had grown and been vulnerable.  My response made her feel inadequate, like a failure.


I invited her to a Zoom call shortly before the graduation ceremony. Thankfully, she agreed. It was so painful to witness her hurt, and to feel the wall that had risen so quickly between us, after months of building connection.  I explained, I apologized, we had some back and forth.


It wasn't till I suggested we take a few moments to breathe together and my own tears formed, that she could see and feel the truth of my regret, and that we were able to begin repair.  She came to the ceremony, and without going into detail, I publicly acknowledged my error. With time, I think things will settle and the path between us will be clearer.


The core of our existence in this life is relationships. Being human, we will err, sometimes in small ways, sometimes spectacularly.  We will cause harm.  The willingness and ability to acknowledge and feel another's hurt, to humbly and sincerely own it and take steps toward healing, is one of the most important thing we can offer.


How do you say you're sorry?  I vote truthfully, and with feeling.

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