We are told since we were a toddler to say “sorry” every time we make a mistake. Some people find it easy to say it, some others find it harder. It is not about who can behave better, it is about the value someone holds in their life, and in some cases… how they were raised. I mean, if you were raised in a Western culture where individualism is in the core of your life, you probably are not used to say “sorry” that much. But the opposite would happen if you were raised in an Eastern culture. In Eastern culture, we believe in what we call “saving face”. Because of this specific term, we are not only trying to avoid making mistakes, we are also taught to say “sorry” for almost all things.
I have always had this problem when I lived abroad. In USA, I said “sorry” when I spilled something at home (normal!), I said “sorry” for not liking the movies that my friends wanted to watch (emmm?), I even said “sorry” for getting a position that my friends aimed for (what?). I knew no competitions. I will feel bad if I make someone else feels bad because of my presence. And it made my friends keep telling me to stop saying sorry, I had reached the level where it was not even sweet anymore, it became annoying.
But lately I figured out that the hardest part is knowing when to say “sorry” if you don’t even know whether or not you made a mistake, how to say “sorry” when deep inside you know that it is the other person who did it wrong, and… will you do it?
Last year, I got into a big fight with someone who was working for me in an event called “Jakarta Model United Nations 2014”. I was the Secretary General, I was the leader, all decisions were in my hands, I had the power, but I also got the pressure. I was slowly falling into pieces. I had this one guy worked for me to help me organizing the whole event. I didn’t pay him of course, it was a student event, it was a volunteering. But then, 10 days before the event started, he resigned and left me without even finishing the jobs given to him. I was furious, I was confused, the pressure got even heavier on my shoulders, and I said all the bad words ever invented in this world to him. He yelled back at me, telling me that I was arrogant. After that day, we never spoke to each other again. The event ran very successfully, everybody loved it, they talked about it as if it was making another benchmark, and I was very proud. After all, I thought I deserved it.
One year had passed but there was still something in my head that I can’t get rid of, like the feeling you get when you make others disappointed in you. Was it my fault? I don’t think so. He was the one who didn’t do his jobs, who walked away from his responsibilities. But is that what matters now? Who was right and who was wrong? I don’t think so either. Yes, he made a huge mistake, but I had to admit that I did, too, make a mistake. And maybe he was right, that I was so arrogant, I didn’t even try to make things right between us. So I picked up my phone, found his number, and contacted him. I said “sorry” for what happened. I didn’t even care anymore if I was right. And he replied sincerely, also saying “sorry” for leaving and “thank you” that I contacted him. Now I think we are friends once more.
Then there was this one time I got into a fight with my mom over the phone. I cried, she cried. But I really believed I didn’t do something wrong. I am an adult and I thought I have the rights to decide what’s best for me. We didn’t talk for two days. But then I realized, maybe it was not about whether I was right or not. So I called my mom and said “sorry”. She cried again, saying that she was so happy that I called her. She said she just loves me so much and sometimes she still just can’t get the idea of me growing up and becoming an adult. And so we made up.
I learned that sometimes you say “sorry” not because you made a mistake, but you say it to maintain a relationship, and that saying “sorry” doesn’t always mean you lose, sometimes it means you have a bigger heart to choose to protect other’s feelings over your pride.