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What do you mean when you say ‘sorry’?

It should have been simple

Fireman Edric Kennedy-Macfoy just wanted the police to say ‘sorry‘.

Off duty, dressed in a pin-striped suit and driving an Audi, he stopped to help the police who were being attacked with bricks and bottles after shutting down a party. The police assumed he was one of the partygoers – who like Kennedy-Macfoy, were black. They dragged him out of his car, verbally abused him, shot him without warning with a stun gun when he was walking away from them, and finally arrested and charged him.

Despite the treatment they gave him, he wouldn’t have followed up on his complaint if they had said ‘sorry, we were under pressure and we got things wrong’. (The Guardian newspaper 19th April 2012).

What does it mean?

Sorry. It’s such a simple word. A necessary word. But a word that says so many different things.

We bump into someone – and say ‘sorry’.

Our children do something we don’t like – and we expect them to say ‘sorry’.

We encourage perpetrators of crime to write to their victim – and say ‘sorry’.

The word might convey ‘Oops – I didn’t mean to do that’ or ‘OK, I’ll apologise because that’s what you want me to do’ or ‘Please don’t think badly of me’ or ‘I sincerely and deeply regret what I’ve done’. Or many shades of meaning in between.

What does it mean to you?

See if you recognise your experience in any of the scenarios here. At the end of that document, you’ll find my suggestions for making an apology meaningful.