“I am sorry!”

Just 3 small words!! They should be easy to say? But they always get stuck in the throat!! Though a poor cousin of the more illustrious phrase ” I love you” , this one “I am sorry” is perhaps the most under used part of our vocabulary. Though the chances to say sorry are legion, & we continue to create newer opportunities by the dozen every day, still we will try every possible subterfuge to avoid accepting I did something wrong. One of the most profound interactions that can occur between people, apologies have the power to heal humiliations, free the mind from deep-seated guilt, remove the desire for vengeance, and thus ultimately restore broken relationships. But do we say we are sorry?

Have you ever wondered why saying sorry is difficult? Clearly it is our ego that comes in the way. Firstly we believe we are infallible. To accept our mistake requires humility. But we are full of the opposite: our pride, comes in the way. Even when the mistake is obvious, it takes courage to eat the humble pie & accept your fault. Traditionally we are wired to defend ourselves, argue, to try and prove that the other person actually erred, & you are the wronged person, someone who needs the apology, rather than accepting that I need to make an apology. This is not a good place to be in, since as soon as you accept that you made a mistake, you are ready to move on. Remember Robin Sharma,” There are no mistakes in life, only lessons. …From struggle comes strength. Even pain can be a wonderful teacher”.

Think about it…. Saying sorry & learning from the mistake is far better than the others who are stuck there quibbling over right and wrong & trying to apportion blame. Think of your life as an open book. Move forward, close a chapter & start afresh. “Proper apologies have three parts: 1) What I did was wrong. 2) I feel bad that I hurt you. 3) How do I make this better?” as Randy Pausch has noted. While 1 & 2 are important elements, the real focus should not be on the past, but on the future…how do we make it better? “Mistakes are the portals of discovery.” said James Joyce. It is not the mistakes we make but how we correct them that opens newer opportunities, leading to newer futures.

If you understand apologies better, what is involved is the heaviness of shame, guilt, and humiliation, that the person feels when he considers his act & wonders whether to apologize. Riddled with it is also the initial reluctance to apologize, since it involves accepting that you are wrong. But if you can jump over that chasm, you will be charmed by the simplicity of the act of apologizing,.. It is not really an Everest you made it out to be, it is just a step forward. And if your feelings are genuine & you can convey the heartfelt remorse, more often than not you will be met with the spontaneous generosity and forgiveness on the part of the offended. The cathartic feeling lifts both involved. The new-found warmth unleashes the transfer of power and respect between two parties. And this is where I am Sorry & I Love You both phases & phrases merge and you emerge stronger and more empowered than before.

I recollect 2 occasions of saying sorry which left a deep impact on my life. Here goes:

Very early in my career….1982, 2 years after marriage, I had got a job with Siemens. First time working in an MNC. Within a few weeks of joining the new job, was my wedding anniversary. First anniversary in Mumbai, surrounded by family, having recently shifted jobs & location. Everyone was invited to a big bash at home in the evening. Much planning had gone it to make the party memorable. Went to office in morning, promising I would be home by 6 pm, to help before guests arrived. Something came up in the office, I forget now what it was. 6 became 7, 7 became 8 and 8 became 9 pm. Guests had arrived, food was getting cold & I was still in office. I had called at 5 pm & told I would be late. But after that somehow I could not or did not call again. Obviously, this was well before the cell phone era. At 9 pm my resourceful, journalist father-in-law decided he should call Siemens’ Head Office & find out where I was. The Security Guard who picked the phone just said office is closed. Not to give up, my FIL used his contacts & found the residential telephone no of P. W. Khandekar, Personnel Director of Siemens India and called him up to say that I , a rookie new joinee, had not returned home from office. And could he help? PWK being PWK, he called the office, made the Security Guard climb up to Personnel Dept on 3rd floor, locate me in the conference room & tell me to go home immediately as PWK the Personnel Director was holding, on line & wanted a report that I had left office!!!! Imagine my embarrassment in front of new colleagues & bosses. But a Director’s orders have to be obeyed. I went home fuming & angry at the supreme embarrassment in a new company & amidst new colleagues. The party celebrations were a wash out. All had food and left. And I turned to my wife of 2 years & roundly berated her for insulting & embarrassing me. Needless to add, we slept with our backs to one another, anniversary regardless.

Next morning, I had convinced my FIL & my wife that they had stepped way out of line by calling PWK, a Director at home, for a husband missing a dinner. Sheepishly I went to office, sought an appointment at 5th floor with Khandekar & sallied forth with butterflies in my stomach to apologize to him. When I entered his cabin, I began profusely saying sorry. PWK looked at me top to toe. Asked me to sit down. I feared a sack, 1 month since joining. And then PWK spoke,” Why are you apologizing to me? Go home and say sorry to your wife!!! what you made her go through was terrible.” End of interview. Have never forgotten the lesson. (Sotto Voce : I am still apologizing to Vinita after 40 years, he he ha ha)

The second episode: I was an Asst Manager in Industrial Relations assisting the Chief Manager IR Policy, Mr Arun Bhende. I was deputed to handle an IR Crisis which had developed in our Nashik factory. Having just 3 years experience till then under my belt, all in recruitment and training functions, never worked in a plant environment, I went with much trepidation. Bhende’ one line direction to me was IR is practical logic, so do whatever you feel is right, I will back you from Head Office …..a tall order. But I took to IR like a fish to water, quick decisive, fast actions, & move forward was my agenda. Every evening I used to call to brief Bhende…more to restore my own confidence, to sense-check what I was doing. Bhende was always supportive. On one evening call, Bhende began saying, shall we brief Pandit ( our Executive VP). Brashness of youth took over, “Boss Pandit is fool, He does not understand IR. He is theoretical. He has only handled training” etc etc. All along Bhende is trying to stop me, ” Arre Vikas, But he is our super boss, we must put him in loop” etc. And unstoppable Vikas machine-guns on, “You talk to him if you want, I don’t want to talk to that impractical chap” & so on. Finally Bhende tells me, when I stop to catch my breath,” Vikas, Mr Pandit is in my room, you are on speaker phone, & he is hearing all.” My immediate reaction was to disconnect the line. Went all cold inside, thinking what a hole I have dug myself into. अभी तो जॉब पक्का गया. You don’t insult the top gun in HR in a feudal company like Siemens, you just don’t. After an hour of walking in the plant, I called back Bhende. His advice, come to Mumbai tomorrow, meet Pandit & apologize. That trip Nashik to Worli was the worst I have done. Continuously agonizing how will I broach the topic? How can I cover up? My goose looked well cooked. I reach Pandit’s room in Head Office ( incidentally the same room which Khandekar used to occupy) & as soon as I entered, Pandit begins,” Ok, now I know what you think of me. Impractical am I? A fool?” I am sitting with my head down, wishing the chair would swallow me. ” Sir I am sorry. I over stepped my boundary”. “No no, it is ok Now at least I know exactly your opinion of me” Don’t know which Fairy Godmother interceded on my behalf, but Pandit’s next words were,” Vikas you will be a senior manager some day. Do be careful. Don’t talk so loose. See where & to whom you are talking” I sheepishly yes sir, yes sir-ed my way out of the cabin. Truly admire the largeness of Pandit’s & Khandekar’s heart that they accepted my apology & taught me life’s lessons in the process.

To end this piece , I truly admire the Jain practice of मिच्छामि दुक्कडम् at the end of Paryushan. All greet each other as Micchami Dukkhadam i.e. I ask for your forgiveness for any harm I did to you knowingly or unknowingly by my words, actions or by my feelings. In effect what they are saying is “May my bad deeds (dushkrut) become fruitless (mithya).” ” May all the evil that has been done be in vain”. What a concept!!! What an Universal Apology!!! The power to heal & forgive comes through so strongly.

Most Humbly I accept, I am flawed, I err, again and again.

Micchami Dukkhadam: vikas