My song today is ‘Hard to Say I’m Sorry’. This song was written by bassist Peter Cetera, who also sang lead on the track, and producer David Foster, for the group ‘Chicago’. It was released on May 16, 1982, as the lead single from the album ‘Chicago 16’ and reached Number 1 on the ‘Billboard Hot 100’ chart on September 11 of that year. It was the group's second No. 1 single and was certified Gold by the ‘Recording Industry Association of America’ (RIAA) in September of the same year. Songwriter Cetera, a member of the ‘American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers’ (ASCAP), won an ASCAP ‘Pop Music Award’ for the song in the category, ‘Most Performed Songs’. The song was also featured as the ending theme in the movie and soundtrack for ‘Summer Lovers’.
It has often been said that ‘sorry’ is the hardest word. There are so many people in this world who cannot utter this word of apology. Indeed, my late father’s favourite macho film star, John Wayne, while speaking the words of one of the film characters he played said, “Never apologise. It’s a sign of weakness!” I also have known people with a sense of false pride who would rather stop talking to you than admit they were wrong or apologise for their wrong action. The simple truth is that it takes a strong person to be able to apologise sincerely and a stronger person to accept that apology and to forgive.
Unless an apology reveals the presence of a wounded heart as well as one’s pride, it may not be truly felt. Some people believe that though they may apologise, saying ‘sorry’ did not necessarily mean that they had indeed done any wrong. Saying ‘sorry’ for them in this scenario more likely means that they value your relationship more than their ego.
Then, there are people who apologise all day long, whether they have done any wrong. In fact, their extreme non-assertive behaviour essentially makes their whole life a continuous apology; an aspect of their character which can be as irritating a form of behaviour than not apologising at all. As a Probation Officer in West Yorkshire who must have run over one hundred groups over my career in so many different community settings, the two most problematic client types which I worked with who would not and could not apologise appropriately were people with aggressive behaviour and people with non-assertive behaviour. Those aggressive group members could become angry at a moment’s notice, whereas the non-assertive ‘ever-apologetic’ group member hated confrontation so much that they would avoid all socially embarrassing situations and wouldn’t say ‘boo to a goose’, however much another person offended them.
My own research and learning over two decades revealed that while these two inappropriate response pattern types seemed to be at opposite ends of the response pattern spectrum of inappropriate behaviour, in many respects, they were closer than one would ever imagine them to be. Both response types lacked one vital response ingredient of what the other had too much of. For instance, whereas the aggressive person was prone to inappropriately express too much of their ‘anger level’, yet would strongly resist acknowledging their ‘fear level’, the non-assertive person would never outwardly display their anger level but would display their high fear level. This would lead the aggressive person to suppress their fear level rather than acknowledge it, and the non-assertive person to be inwardly angry with themselves; a form of emotional implosion as opposed to external explosion and ill health. Both extreme response pattern types were used to learn from each other through behavioural rehearsal (group role play). Whereas the aggressive group client would be actively encouraged to reveal and display their ‘fears’, the non-assertive group member would be encouraged to display their anger level in an appropriate way. In this way and through such means, a more appropriate response pattern of behaviour was developed in both the aggressive and the non-assertive group client.
The areas of social skill training that each type benefited the most from included learning to negotiate the following aspects of response appropriately assertively (not aggressively or non-assertively):
(1) Learning to make and refuse requests, with and without explanation.
(2) Giving and receiving compliments.
(3) Introducing oneself and creating a favourable first impression.
ALL THE ABOVE INVOLVE BEING ABLE TO APPROPRIATELY CONFRONT AND CHALLENGE THE INAPPROPRIATE BEHAVIOUR OF SELF AND OTHERS.
Ironically, these simple pieces of behaviour in social skills learning involve behavioural components which are present in all social behaviour, however sophisticated or difficult those behaviours may seem to negotiate.
I will always remember one group member saying to the rest of the group, “I made a huge mistake that I could not undo, and now I am having to live with the consequences of my mistake!” For twenty minutes or more I allowed the group to discuss the nature of the ‘huge mistake’ before concluding, “While we may have to learn to live with the mistake we made, we do not have to live with the emotional consequences of that mistake, if we appropriately apologise, if we are sincere in our apology if we learn from our mistake and never repeat it, and if our apology is accepted by the person initially offended by our mistake. In the event that the offended party cannot find it in their heart to forgive you, you may forgive yourself and learn to live with the knowledge of your mistake, and the effect upon the other person of your mistake, without imposing the emotional consequences of your inappropriate action upon yourself.” Apologies are never about changing the past, only the future!
Essentially, I taught group members that saying things like, ‘I’m sorry you’re angry’ is not an apology. Apologies are about YOUR INAPPROPRIATE BEHAVIOUR, AND NOT THE RESPONSE OF THE PERSON YOU OFFENDED. I taught them that proper apologies have three stages that require satisfactory negotiation:
(1) Saying what you did was wrong.
(2) Acknowledging you feel bad that it hurt and caused them offence.
(3) Asking “What can I do to make this better, to make you feel better?”
Love and peace Bill xxx