I realize that by saying I’m deeply sorry, it might not be enough and sufficient to address the pain and hurt I’ve caused you.”
Marion Jones, the golden girl of the Sydney Olympics, wept openly as she uttered these words on 6 October 2007. It was a sad day for sport.
The only woman in history to win five medals in athletics at a single Olympics finally admitted in the New York District Court to having taken performance-enhancing drugs. A sprinter and long-jumper, who won three gold and two bronze medals in the 2000 Olympics, she had repeatedly denied taking steroids. But
finally, she apologized to the world for her actions. She admitted she had taken drugs from September 2000 to July 2001.
“I want you to know that I’ve been dishonest… I have let my country down; I have let myself down. I betrayed your trust,” said Jones outside the court.
“Sorry seems to be the hardest word,” a famous star once opined. Indeed, for Marion Jones it was hard enough admitting her mistake. However, one can guess that she probably had little choice, knowing
that she would face a severe penalty if she did not plead guilty.
A commentator writes that sorry may seem to be the hardest word for many of us, but atonement is the new selling factor for celebrities. In other words, the word ‘sorry’ is uttered not so much out of fear of possible punishment but simply to bury the past.
The French football maestro Zinedine Zidane recently apologized for his infamous head butt on Italian defender Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup Final in Germany. “It was inexcusable. I apologize,” he said.
More recently, the Argentine football legend, Diego Maradona, put to rest the longest-running, most-debated and much-relished episode in footballing history. In an interview, the little genius apologised for his ‘Hand of God’ goal in the 1986 World Cup quarterfinal against England in Mexico.
Maradona scored both goals in the 2-1 victory over England more than 20 years ago. His first goal in the quarter-final match was deemed by the match referee to be a legitimate header past England goalkeeper Peter Shilton, but replays confirmed he had illegally punched the ball in with his hand.
“If I could apologise and go back and change history, I would,” said Maradona.
Many experts have commented that Maradona’s statement itself deserves to be a subject of debate – maybe for another 20 years to come!
Over the years, many sportspersons, politicians, and religious and social leaders have gathered enough courage to apologize and bury their erroneous past. Sometimes, even corporate giants have said sorry to save their reputation and their share of the market. For instance, in 1982, Johnson and Johnson recalled 30 million bottles of Tylenol pills from retail stores after seven people died from cyanide-laced pills. (Time, 30 April 2007). The company dealt with the potentially damaging situation by issuing a public apology and introducing tamper-proof packaging.
In another incident, it was reported that David Neeleman, CEO of JetBlue, an American budget airline, embarked on a week-long media apology tour after 100,000 travellers were stranded when “bad weather decimated its operating ability.” In one case, JetBlue passengers were left on a snowed-in runway for more than nine hours. Neeleman was reported to have said sorry in national newspaper ads:
“Words cannot express how truly sorry we are for the anxiety, frustration and inconvenience that you, your family, and friends and colleagues have experienced.”
Saying sorry is effective. Just imagine how you would feel if you were offended or wronged by a person; what would be your reaction if the person did not want to acknowledge his or her mistake and apologize for it?
The chances are that you would hold a grudge against that person and probably share such sentiments in your social circles.
Why would saying sorry – no matter how hard it is – still be important? Why do some people find it harder to say sorry than others?
One would venture to guess that pride and ego hold some of us back in saying it. We know for sure that not admitting a mistake can be very detrimental – not only for personal relationships but also for seeking solutions. Depending on the nature of the mistake, not admitting one can possibly have catastrophic consequences.
In 2000, the Japanese company Snow Band did not react to reports of outbreaks of food poisoning caused by their milk product until some 60 hours after the first reported incidents. Five days later, some 6,000 people had become sick. Consumers and the media were outraged that top executives in Tokyo had not even acknowledged the incident, let alone take responsibility for it. Consequently, the company
went out of business.
Whilst the kind of mistakes we make in our everyday lives may not cause catastrophes or affect too many people, the negative consequences of not admitting our mistakes can nonetheless be harmful and disastrous. Personal relationships can be damaged. More importantly, doors to solution-finding remain stubbornly locked. Admitting a mistake and apologising for it is the key – if not crucial – requirement in
unlocking the door to find a positive way forward.
Taking The Blame
On the spiritual path, too, one can progress rapidly if one admits one’s mistakes and learns from them.
In his inspiring spiritual talks, Gunatitanand Swami says, “God does not look at the faults of jivas. If a jiva prays to God and says, ‘I am at fault, then God forgives him for his mistakes.’ ”
Yogiji Maharaj often said, “I feel happy when someone points out my mistakes. It gives me an opportunity to improve and become better.”
Yogiji Maharaj’s humility was such that he tolerated the insults of others, even though he was never at fault. On the contrary, he willingly apologized to his persecutors, calmed them and made them feel happy.
God-realized Sadhus like Shastriji Maharaj, Yogiji Maharaj and Pramukh Swami Maharaj often take the blame upon themselves for the mistakes of others. Moreover, they never feel small or inferior in apologizing to others.
Saying sorry in this way can reverse ill feelings and open the way to finding solutions.
In 1980, Pramukh Swami Maharaj was in London, England. The local devotees had organized a satsang outing at Epping Forest. Swamishri, along with all the sadhus, was scheduled to arrive there by 10.00 am. Everyone had been looking forward to this event for a long time. Men, women and children from all over the UK had arrived early with enthusiasm and waited eagerly for Swamishri’s arrival. But Swamishri was somehow delayed.
Finally, when he did arrive with a few trustees, it was already 12.30 pm. All the devotees were frustrated. Matters were made worse by a sudden downpour of rain which further dampened everyone’s spirits. The situation got to a head when it was decided to abandon the event due to the rain. Everyone went home feeling dejected because they did not get Swamishri’s presence for the whole assembly. It was natural in this situation to assign the blame on the trustees, since they had organized the home visits which had delayed Swamishri. A cloud of dissatisfaction and blame loomed all over. Swamishri came to know about the disheartened spirits of devotees and quickly stepped in to rectify the situation. The next day, he apologized before the assembly, “Look, whatever happened yesterday at Epping Forest is totally my own fault. The trustees were driving me to the park, but it was I who insisted on the home visits. As a result, we were delayed and could not make it on time. I am sorry.”
In reality, it was nobody’s fault, least of all Swamishri’s, for he was delayed due to circumstances beyond his control. But Swamishri took the blame upon himself and restored harmony. Everyone realized their
own mistakes and they themselves apologized to Swamishri for their erratic behaviour and impatience.
Swamishri never feels small in saying sorry, even though he is not at fault. In 1987, Swamishri, along with a large contingent of BAPS sadhus and devotees, embarked upon a pilgrimage of Uttarakhand in the Himalayas (Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath). The whole event was planned well in advance. A group of sadhus had also carried out a pilot tour of the whole pilgrimage just to finalize the route and make arrangements. They booked guesthouses, hotels and ashrams well in time for the huge entourage. Everything was set for the pilgrimage to begin.
The Uttarakhand yatra is an important Hindu pilgrimage. Many people from all over the world do it at least once in their lifetime. It was quite a coincidence that the Parmar family from London, England, had also embarked on this yatra at the same time as Swamishri and the sadhus. However, because they had not
planned in advance, they could not find suitable accommodation at any of the places. As a result the family was furious and they wrote a stern letter to Swamishri on their return to London.
“We came on this yatra hoping to find accommodation. But wherever we went, they
were fully booked because of your sadhus and devotees. Our yatra was ruined…”
Others would have brushed the letter aside. How could anyone wrongly blame Swamishri?
But Swamishri pacified the Parmar family with a letter of apology, “I am sorry for the trouble and inconvenience we had caused. We would have been more than happy to arrange your accommodation if you had informed us then. We pray for you and your family.”
Swamishri never bears grudges with others, even if they wrongly assign blame to him. Swamishri’s life is an inspiration for all. With his ego-free personality he teaches us to live in harmony.
Sorry may be the hardest word to say. But by saying sorry we can improve our personal and professional reputation. Next time, you feel like saying sorry to someone, just go ahead. Don’t allow your pride and ego to block your path of constructive action.
Furthermore, reading satsang books and inspiring biographies, performing rituals like arti, mansi puja and introspection, and daily practice of yoga helps in improving our attitudes and behaviours.