I’m sorry that happened versus I’m sorry I did that

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A very minor thing happened to me. What that thing is does not really matter. Being gracious might mean letting it go, ignoring it, or moving on and forgetting about it. I strive to be gracious, so one of those options would have been best.


In a moment of dubious wisdom, I shared the thing with the person who was indirectly responsible. This wonderful person said, “I’m sorry that happened to you.”

This is the same response I use when someone shares something with me about which I have no control. For example, after the earthquake in Haiti, I said, “I’m so sorry that happened.” I meant it. I am sorry the earth shook and many, many people lost their lives. Yet, I do not take responsibility for the earthquake, and I, personally, do not have anything for which I need to apologize about the earthquake (ignoring unmitigated poverty is a separate topic).

When someone shares some sad news with me, I respond, “I am sorry that happened.” I did not cause the test results to be positive, a loved one to die, or other bad news. My response is a reflection of my sympathy, not personal responsibility. I truly am sorry they are going through something bad, and the same is true when I hear those words from someone else. I recognize that they are sympathy, perhaps even empathy, but not a statement of responsibility.

This brings me to the thing. The person who could have owned responsibility, instead offered the generic, non-accountilibity statement: “I’m sorry that happened.” 
Every person would do well to consider the richness of human speech. We can express love, healing, encouragement, approval, and many other positive feelings with words. We can also express hurt, hate, pain, disapproval, disappointment, and many other negative feelings with words. Instead of taking responsibility, we dodge our role in events by carefully choosing our words. 
Thoughtful speech is not accidental. 
The next time a thing happens, I will let it go. 

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