Are you brooding because someone, somewhere hasn't said sorry to you? Or, conversely, are you feeling guilty because you wronged someone but were too shy or too proud or too late to say sorry?
Despite what the song says, sorry is not the hardest word. More difficult is letting go of one's ego, holding on to self-righteousness, thinking we are Mr/Ms Right - all of which can lead to anger and pain. This, in turn, triggers the sympathetic nervous system, putting the body under stress alert, releasing stress hormones, raising blood pressure and increasing free fatty acids in the blood.
If we haven't let it go, the mind will keep revisiting the upsetting past. Emotional pain sticks, especially when a genuine apology hasn't been expressed and heard. The emotional bank account cannot be drawn to a close but is withheld and the interest duly reinvested.
Tough guy John Wayne's line, "never apologise, never explain," brings no peace. It heals no rift and serves only to pamper the ego. Apologising is not a sign of weakness. It takes guts to say sorry and really mean it. When an apology comes from the heart, it helps release the negative emotional ties between both sides of the conflict. A new, better relationship is formed. Without an apology, dormant enemies remain out there - whether or not what you said, did, or didn't do was intended to create hurt or upset. An unkept promise, cruel words said in anger, unfunny jokes you made of others or politicians misleading the public - it's better to say sorry as soon as possible, rather than keeping silent, hoping it will go away, or being cornered into admitting your mistake later.
Prejudice can be passed on to the next generation in countries formerly at war with each other. Imagine what a mutual apology from the heads of state could do to restore harmony! Imagine your boss apologising for being demanding and irrational! It would make you feel that you are being treated with respect and would clear the air, bridge the relationship, bring harmony and ease friction.
A tiny thing can turn into a huge row for a married couple. Try making peace with an automatic apology even though you may never discover the cause of the latest upset.
Just like any new experience, people may feel awkward doing it at first. Perhaps what we need is a National Apology Day! Then everybody can feel comfortable doing it. It will be an opportunity for all to reduce stress by letting go of grudges and what has been eating you, settling the overdue emotional account in an amicable way and.... forgiving!
A Buddhist tradition prior to ordination is to apologise to those to whom you may have given grief, especially to your parents. The occasion always brings tears to parental eyes, the ordained and onlookers alike. It is that touching. An apology can be extended - not only to the parents but also to teachers and friends. I once got a letter from a former student, apologising to me before he entered monkhood. He had always been a good student and there was no need whatsoever for an apology, yet his letter was deeply touching.
His positive action prompted me to do the same two years ago when I went for a monastic retreat in Thailand. I called all my loved ones and apologised to each of them in turn, including my three children. It took them all by complete surprise. They were speechless; there was silence at first, followed typically by "Um... er... ok?" Some returned the apology. This exchange gave us a chance to forgive and make peace with the past and brought us even closer. When I put down the phone, I was left with a sense of peace and a big smile on my face. It was the perfect start to the retreat!
Australia has held a Sorry Day since 1997 - to apologise for the mistreatment of its indigenous peoples. So let's have a National Apology Day where we can all be kind to ourselves and others by saying sorry for our wrongdoings. We can make peace and move on. Even if others haven't quite forgiven us, at least we will have started the peace process towards healing the past and letting go.
So, let me start off by apologising to you if I have written, said or done anything that you find upsetting, even irritating. I am sorry!