The power of sorry and the 3 elements of a sincere apology

The power of sorry and the 3 elements of a sincere apology can and does change lives.  The impact of a genuine and heartfelt one can never be underestimated, be it to groups, individuals, society as a whole.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews historical ‘world first  SORRY speech   in  May 2016 to Victoria’s LGBTI community in Parliament was nothing short of breathtaking.

His heartfelt sincerity, compassion, contrition, commitment and conviction to righting the horrific wrongs had my heart in my chest and tears soaking my cheeks.

I will not try to do justice to the immense gravity of discrimination, abuse and alienation that the LGBTI community suffered (and still do).  I am without words to describe the injustice that was dealt from the mass ignorance and arrogance and resultant actions that were considered acceptable at the time. But time offers reflection towards repentance.  The Premier stated in his historical speech :

“It’s never too late to put things right, it’s never too late to say sorry and mean it”

The character of Colonel Fitts in the movie American Beauty sprung  to mind at the end of the  speech broadcast.    Fitts was the violent, homophobic and bigoted tyrant who lived next door to Kevin Spacey’s mid-life bungling character Lester. Fitts who spouted fanatical contempt for homosexuality was all along covering up his own repressed homosexuality and in a final scene we see him attempting to passionately seduce Lester.

This scene had a profound affect on me as it confirmed with absolute clarity how cruelty, outward hatred, ignorance and arrogance was often borne from peoples own repressed feelings, insecurity, failure and lack of courage to face their own foibles, beliefs and humanity.  And therefore oppressing others, turning a blind eye to injustice, following a mass pack mentality and refusal to ask the important life questions was the result of wide-ranging lack of self acceptance and self esteem.  Walking in anothers shoes with empathy is a important part of the sorry.

American Beauty, the Premiers speech and the backstories of  apologies and regret have much in  common.    I could write with a deeper pedagogical and a psychologist’s perspective but I can only share from my own heart as a human being who  knows the  power of sorry and remorse,

The issue why people cannot and will not say sorry often centres around  accepting our own, others and  collective societies  imprudence, ignorance, arrogance, fears and overarching beliefs of not being good enough.   So to elevate our self worth and spot in life we will push other people down, make them feel less than, castigate, bully and alienate them.  And in no way try to truly understand, show compassion,  work with, learn from and admit our own naivety, inexperience and lack of  knowledge.

For it is when we set up a ‘THEM’ vs ‘US’   that we,  in our conscious and subconscious worlds can feel better about who we are (in a deluded way).

From such a platform you see  people hiding   behind their behaviours by attempts to Rationalise, Re-assure and Justify  that their actions are acceptable and warranted.   Observe the volume of flagrant excuses strutted by  individuals,  organisations  and governments  who clearly are in the wrong  – its  pretty  deafening!     Many people and organisations  struggle with admitting their blunders of judgement or actions  and just cannot and will not contemplate offering an apology at all.

Daily in the business world we see  the stiff facades as people try to save their own skin and look good for the boss, clients, board, suppliers, staff, colleagues etc .   As humans we all  stuff up, treat others poorly and make mistakes at times. But admitting our errors  and  saying ‘I’m so sorry I was wrong’ is viewed as weak and unprofessional with a fear of retribution.

‘I’m so sorry’  is one of  the most powerful phrases  in the world.  It can shift mountains of despair,  alleviate  hurt,  elevate self esteem and purpose,  encourage honesty,  build partnerships, foster trust and most importantly allow situations and relationships to really repair, grow and succeed.

But there is a catch

A powerful sorry is  about the intention and motivation for giving an apology in the first place.   We have all received the insincere  flippant ‘sorry’. We have heard the  ‘sorry’ to assuage  guilt.  We have heard the  ‘sorry’  to manipulate and we have heard the sorry to ‘just get me the hell out of the room’.  And lets not forget the ‘ it wont happen again’ insincere sorry.

Sincere apologies have 3 elements 

Sincere apologies  should not be given in the expectation of  forgiveness.   Sure it is a nice by-product  but respecting other peoples  ability and desire to forgive is another whole matter.   Sure, we can ask for forgiveness  but it should not be the motivation. Its about ‘righting a wrong’ and ‘contrition’.

  1. Stating you are sorry with sincerity and contrition
  2. Admit fault and responsibility – lose the ego, demonstrate reflection of impact
  3. Ask how to make it right – genuine offer not lip service


The  apology  delivered by Premier Andrews in 2016 had all the right motivations.  It contained  deep contrition, historical context, awareness, impact reflection, a way forward and a promise for change and a commitment to not allow it to happen again. It was the makings of the only type of apology that is meaningful.

It is NEVER too late to say sorry.  Healing, moving forward and hope are the results – for everyone

Who should you be saying   I’M SO SORRY to ?





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