“Why were you so worried?,” I would often say to my mom. “I wasn’t all that late, and besides, I’m a very good driver.”
How unreasonable, I would think to myself. What a worrier, I’d repeat silently. She and I could go back and forth about our perspectives. Was she being reasonable or unreasonable? Was I irresponsible or was she overprotective? Probably a bit of both, a mix of the two. But she really does worry too much, I would always conclude.
So if I thought she was really creating the problem, or at least contributing heavily to it, I didn’t feel inclined to offer much of an apology. I may have said something like, “I’m sorry, mom, but maybe you should find something else to do with your time so you don’t worry so much.”
But from Japanese Psychology — specifically Naikan — I came to see that we don’t need to tangle with issues of right and wrong before offering an apology. We can simply ask ourselves the question, “Did I cause trouble?” and apologize if the answer is “yes.” It’s so simple.
We can recognize the other person’s suffering and let them know that we care. “I’m sorry you were so worried about me. I know how awful it feels to be worried.”
If we think we made a mistake or used poor judgment, we can include that in our apology, but there are bound to be plenty of times when we won’t be clear about that at all. Our relationships are complicated and messy and our lives are hopelessly intertwined. Who set the stage for this problem? Who started it? Who escalated it? It can be hard to tell which end is up sometimes.
But it’s not hard to tell when we’ve caused trouble . . . especially in our intimate relationships. Softening up enough to show that we care about the other person’s experience can go a long way toward resolving tensions, restoring peace and communicating your love for the person involved.
Forget about what’s reasonable. That won’t get you anywhere. Forget about who’s right. You’re right 90% of the time. So am I. We all are. Unfortunately, the math doesn’t add up. So let’s keep it simple.
Did I do something that caused trouble? Did I say something that caused trouble? “I’m sorry.”
What a simple way to add a touch of harmony and grace to this rough and tumble world.
Linda Anderson Krech, LICSW, is Program Director of the ToDo Institute and has been a frequent contributor to Thirty Thousand Days. She is the author of Little Dreams: A Practical Guide to Spiritual Parenting and has been teaching Japanese Psychology for over 20 years.