Coming to live in Australia 26 years ago was certainly an eye-opener in many ways. Having previously travelled here for about six months, I made the mistake of assuming that the two cultures are very similar because they appear to be in many ways, some parts of Australia more than others, but I soon realised that that’s not the case.
It’s true that there are some similarities and it’s easy to have expectations about how things and people will be however my experience here, and Nick, have both shone a bright light on some of my quainter English ways. Like using the word quaint perhaps …! Some aspects I have adapted to suit where we are and who we are with at the time and others I hold on tightly to like a treasured possession for example my sense of humour or wit as I like to call it which is still a bit lost on Nick. One of the main ones though was learning when to say ‘sorry’.
How do you feel when someone does or says something that hurts or offends you? Do you think they should apologise assuming they know that that is your reaction?
Like many people from the UK, there was a time when I apologised for everything, things I had or hadn’t done, things I had or hadn’t said and sometimes it felt like I was apologising just for being there. I’m not sure if it’s something in the water, my upbringing, or part of English DNA but I can say that 26 years in Australia has cured me of it!
What I quickly became aware of living here was how infrequently people were saying sorry even when they were clearly at fault, and I didn’t like that particularly when I felt it was important. It didn’t seem to matter whether it was words or actions it was as though people were not taking responsibility for the impact of their behaviour on someone or something else.
Admittedly many people seem totally oblivious to their behaviour and less aware of what we call their ‘emotional wake’ ie the potential for psychological distress as a result of something created by them because they have often walked away and moved on.
For me it also links into the ‘ripple effect’, the fact that everything we do, say and think has an impact on others either positively or negatively; and I’ve written about that before. We not only create ripples of our own but get caught up in other people’s ripples too and sometimes it’s hard to differentiate which is which and where one ends and the other starts. But the ripples extend far beyond our own immediate awareness and can end up impacting families, communities, nations and beyond.
So, I’m not advocating unnecessary apologies, but inviting people to be aware of and take responsibility for their own behaviour and its impact. I’m sure you will have also seen when someone uses sorry as a throwaway line without the slightest hint of remorse and how that too grates. Even though saying sorry doesn’t change the fact that something has happened, if it is done in an authentic, loving and heartfelt way then it goes some way to acknowledging that we have caused someone hurt or offence and opens up the opportunity for conversation on how to move past it.
Although some may have been brought up to believe that saying sorry is a sign of weakness or that you saying sorry is an admission of guilt and therefore to be avoided, in fact it indicates strength of character and a desire to genuinely make amends. So, even if you only say sorry occasionally, how about next time you say it and mean it.