What do you do when someone walks into you? If you’re anything like me you apologise profusely, full of guilt that you had the temerity to get in someone’s way. Why am I like this? Don’t I deserve to take up space too?

Saying sorry is not unusual in these scenarios but sometimes the perpetrator hasn’t a clue and carries on with their day, blissfully oblivious. I was at a market festival in The Netherlands a while back and watched as a man knocked over a huge ceramic vase and then looked down at the broken pieces as if they’d been caused by someone else. He shrugged a little and walked off. Such nonchalance! I watched him go and shook my head in admiration. The stall holder shrugged too, and went off to find a broom.

We don’t really say sorry anymore, not properly at any rate. Maybe it’s the fear of litigation. ‘Don’t apologise, it admits guilt,’ say the insurance adverts. But surely admitting guilt is a good thing. It shows wisdom, an ability to see how your behaviour has affected someone else. 

All too often an apology is shallow and even points the finger elsewhere; my Dutch friend might have said that the vase shouldn’t have been left so close to the edge. Not his fault it got broken. 

But a heartfelt apology can lead to amazing things and as sympathy grows, so too does the potential for forgiveness and reconciliation. Imagine if he’d shown remorse and even helped to sweep up.

Sorry seems to be the hardest word. I hope I’ll soon be able to apologise when I have hurt someone and not just as a reflex when someone stands on my toes.