To many of us saying “I’m sorry” to a loved one can seem like an invitation to blame or declaration of culpability, and yet, “I’m sorry” can also convey a sympathy of feeling (as in “I’m sorry your dog died”). We have much to learn from other languages and cultures about the complexity of meaning packed into this simple English phrase. In Spanish, for instance, one could say “Lo Siento,” or in Greek, “Λυπάμαι,” both of which clearly distinguish a sympathy of feeling from “I apologize.”
In Hawaiian, there is an ancient practice of reconciliation and forgiveness, known as Ho’oponopono, literally, “to make right.” The ancient Hawaiians believed that forgiveness was the key to health and well-being, a belief supported by modern psychology. In Ho’oponopono, these words are repeated, like a prayer or a mantra:
Offered to an acquaintance or loved one, it is an acknowledgement that any level of intimacy involves discovery of the unique mystery of another being — unique gifts that we can appreciate, along with unique and un-anticipated vulnerabilities that will be apparent only through the process of intimacy. Loving inevitably involves some risk of transgression, as we uncover the mystery of other. The practice of Ho’oponopono releases the past, and acknowledges the feelings of those we have impacted in our daily lives, making way for forgiveness, compassion and deeper connection.
Offered to the Divine, or to ourselves, it is a gentle acknowledgement of full responsibility for our own lives. If, in any way, our lives are not as we would wish it, we lovingly and humbly acknowledge our gifts, and the breathtaking opportunity to use them to create the world we wish to have, while offering heartfelt compassion to our younger selves for bringing us to where we are now, as best we knew how.
To you, the reader, I offer:
I’m sorry (for any way you struggle with forgiveness in your life)
Please forgive me (if my words fail to touch your heart)
Thank you (for your unique perspective and understanding)
(because) I love you