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Kaleidoscope of the Heart: If you have to say sorry, do it quickly and sincerely

Rika Kayama

I was standing on a train platform recently when the young man next to me began talking on his phone. By the sound of the conversation, the person on the other end was a client, and the young man was apologizing effusively: "I'm so very sorry. I didn't do the hand-over well." No matter how many times the man repeated his apologies, the client apparently refused to relent.

    I did not intend to eavesdrop, but listening to the exchange, I felt like I would break into a cold sweat at any moment.

    At my university job, students sometimes tell me things like, "I've suddenly won a place in a study abroad program, so I had to tell the company I interviewed with for a job after graduation that I would have to pull out. They told me that would 'cause trouble,' and wouldn't let me."

    Today's university students were all raised in Japan's low birthrate era, and so many of them have been brought up with extreme care. Perhaps they have rarely been severely scolded and had to apologize. I can't do anything for students like the one in the sticky situation with the study abroad program except suggest they "explain the circumstances over again and get them to understand." But looking at their pale, nervous faces, I have to ask myself, when was the last time I apologized to someone from the bottom of my heart?

    I must admit I am not very good at apologies. There were some incidents long ago when I mumbled some mea culpa and then fled the scene. During my internship, I asked a professor for permission to move to their university hospital for research. The professor said yes, but the hospital where I was doing my internship would not give me the OK. In the end, I waited until the last possible moment to tell the professor that I would not be coming, and caused a lot of trouble.

    I ought to have been up-front, told the professor in person what was going on and apologized. But I didn't. I said I was too busy, and just sent a letter. I wasn't criticized or scolded at the time. Years later, however, after the professor had passed away, another doctor told me, "The professor was so disappointed." I felt deep regret, and I wished I had apologized sooner and face-to-face.

    It is with a heavy heart that we give sincere apologies, and it only grows heavier if the person we are apologizing to scolds us or looks angry. There are, however, a lot of problems that cannot be solved without a quick and honest apology. Even if we are told, "You're a nasty person, you know," we must narrow the conversation down to the specifics of the deed in question and say clearly and calmly, "I am very sorry I did this." And we should do this without losing self-confidence or going into fits of self-abnegation.

    It's also important that, in the aftermath, we talk to someone close to us; someone who can commiserate with us and soothe our feelings.

    Back on that train platform, the young man had his phone in a white-knuckle grip as he apologized over and over again. In my heart, I was cheering him on: "Don't give up! I'm sure your sincerity will shine through eventually." And it was with this thought that I watched the train roll into the station, ready to whisk us away to our destinations. (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)

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