“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”
Remember that saccharine line from the famous 1970 movie “Love Story?” It sounded icky to us then, and it sounds icky to us now, but since, like us, many of you also came of age under the spell of that cloying mantra, we’d like to set the record straight once and for all: it’s a big fat lie that has nothing whatsoever to do with love.
“Sorry” can be a mighty tool in saving your marriage, but in order to take full advantage of its power, we must be trained in its proper use.
There are two types of sorry.
There is “saying” sorry. That’s like saying, “I hear you.” Over here, we call it “doing” sorry. It’s superficial and phony, and everyone knows it. It doesn’t enhance your relationship, and as a matter of fact, it can potentially unleash a whole host of other demons that are better left undisturbed.
While it’s true that if your child took another kid’s toy, we would recommend that you train him to “say sorry,” make no mistake about its authenticity. Without also teaching that child about remorse—about “feeling” sorry—you can expect, over the years, that he will learn to use “sorry” as a tactic, a “get out of jail free” card good for future transgressions.
The other day we saw an ad on a city bus, posted by NJ Safe Haven for Infants. It read: “Don’t abandon your baby! There’s a safe haven for unwanted infants. You can give up your baby safely, legally and anonymously at any hospital emergency room or police station. No shame, no blame, no names.”
Without getting into the depth of anguish that advertising copy caused us, let’s just focus on the last line: “No shame, no blame, no names.”
We are not heartless. As parents of six children, we can appreciate how overwhelming it is to bring home a newborn. Not only that, we applaud the dedication of safe havens to the welfare of these tiny, powerless future citizens of the world.
Where we cannot give a pass is taking “shame” out of the equation. How else would you characterize such insensitivity toward your own flesh and blood? Have we become such sissies that we don’t have the stomach for shame? Has shame become such a dirty word that it trumps “abandoning,” “giving up” and “unwanting” a child?
And if turning a callous eye toward our helpless, vulnerable newborn is NOT shameful, why then “no names?”
Well, you can count us among an apparent minority who believes that shame is a good thing, a healthy emotion, as long as it leads to authentic repentance: owning up to what we did, feeling regret, fixing it, and moving on.
Heck, we’ve felt a twinge of shame at giving up on a Sunday crossword puzzle. And what would be wrong with that? What would be so terrible if our shame compelled us to take a second look at what’s challenging us, and then rise up larger and more powerful than our circumstances?
Feeling sorry is a noble and productive thing, a response that can “bring us down in order to bring us up.” The ancient masters of Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) call this “a descent for the purpose of ascent.”
The second type of sorry.
So, getting back to “sorry.” The second type is “feeling” sorry, or better said, “being” sorry. This can happen only as a result of acknowledging our responsibility in the matter of our relationships and opening ourselves up to the other person’s pain as though it were our own.
Rather than saying sorry as a ploy to shut the other person up; rather than saying sorry to avoid feeling (that dirty word) shame at what we’ve done, let’s say sorry, because we genuinely FEEL sorry. And let’s feel sorry in a way that advances the situation and doesn’t leave us wallowing in our self-serving soap opera.
So here’s where we’d like to introduce you to a concept called “re-creation.”
When you re-create another, you make room for all the emotions, attitudes and points of view that your loved one is harboring. You actively remove yourself and all the self-indulgent “chatter” that is monopolizing your brain and allow what’s troubling your friend or your spouse to take center stage and occupy the entire vacant expanse that lies before you.
Then, and only then—in a space that is void of everything except the other person—can the process of re-creation begin to take place.
And by the way, re-creating is not limited to those things that YOU did or said that produced the upset. Even if your spouse came home from work embroiled in an upset of someone else’s making, you can make it disappear through re-creation.
Conceptually, it’s simple; it’s getting ourselves out of the way that can take a lifetime of practice.