I think most of us growing up were trained that when we did something wrong, we were to tell the person we wronged that we were sorry. It’s the polite and right thing to do, to tell someone “I’m Sorry.” But is the word “sorry” overused today? Does “sorry” really mean that we are sorry for what we did anymore?
I have this horrible habit of bringing my “smart phone” to the dinner table and being glued to the dumb thing when I should be focused on my family. It’s actually somewhat hypocritical for me to even think of this being a problem for me considering I’ve previously written about the issues of smart phones and communication today! This bad habit of mine drives my wife crazy. Here she is, this splendid women that prepares amazing meals for myself and our kids, hoping for some quality family time, and I struggle to put the darn phone away. I usually end up getting the “death stare” and it immediately prompts me to tell her “I’m sorry” and put the phone down. Somehow that “I’m sorry” doesn’t register in my head and I often end up back on the dumb phone within minutes of my first “I’m sorry.” Believe it or not, this crazy cycle at times can continue several more times during the course of one meal.
My wife occasionally shares her frustrations on this subject with me and the real frustration is the perceived lack of sincerity in my “Im Sorry.” I don’t claim to be a highly intellectual individual and I certainly can not confess to understanding the extreme complexities of the highly superior female mind and emotional intellect; and I, until today, did not understand my wife’s frustration with my perceived lack of insincerity of the “I’m sorry.” I said I was sorry, I did mean it, problem solved right? Wrong…
Being the slow, dense male that I am; it took a real life experience of my own to realize that sometimes a “sorry” really doesn’t work anymore. Up until very recently I had an employee working for us whom I really like and wanted desperately to see him succeed with us. This young lad has talent far beyond anything he is able to comprehend and could go incredibly far in life with his ability to communicate, present, and associate with all sorts of people. With some polishing, he’s Executive level material in 15 years. What he lacks is discipline in his life. I’ve known this gentlemen for roughly 2 years and during that time I’ve witnessed the rise and fall of his professional and personal life more times than I can count on my fingers and toes. Just when things get going well for him, a poor choice is made by him which brings his world tumbling back down. As an employer, on countless occasions our company got to be the dumping ground for all his baggage. Most notably are the extended “missing in action” periods, constant tardiness, and the most off the wall random excuses for why he’d be gone or late. Some of the excuses were so impressive I considered writing a short book on them.
Each time conversations about the disappointment and unacceptable behavior took place with this ex-employee it was like clockwork, an “I’m sorry” took place followed up with “give me one more chance and I’ll get it right.” After about 15 of those “I’m sorry’s” the value of the words really seemed to wear off. It got to the point that the use of them was predictable and I could almost time when I knew they were going to be said. While I believe he meant those words, his actions thereafter didn’t line up. When it came time for him to exit our bus his manager commented that again this now ex-employee was very sorry and wanted another chance. In conversations with his manager, the feeling was mutual that while the uttered words were “nice” to hear, they were no longer believable.
It finally hit me, the “I’m sorry’s” I too have uttered hundreds of times over really carry little weight!
I am kind of a sucker for posters, memes, and other material that has quotes that I think are powerful. Recently I purchased one online that says: “Your beliefs don’t make you a better person. Your actions do.” Originally when I bought this poster I enjoyed it primarily because while I consider myself a man of faith, yearning to be who God wants me to be; I don’t much care for what “religion” has become. The poster struck me as special and a reminder that actions speak louder than beliefs; or words.
In our upbringing I believe our parents wanted to instill a belief in us that saying “Im sorry” is the right thing to do. This belief I think is a good belief. However, I’m not so sure that any real time was spent on teaching us that our subsequent actions carried more weight in making our “I’m Sorry” more believable.
As in the case of my horrible phone addiction at the dinner table, and the case of this ex-employee I’m sad no longer is associated with our company; our belief in our apology ONLY carries weight if our actions after the fact validate we’ve seen the errors in our ways and have changed course. The actions define our sincerity, NOT the words. This application of thought can really be used in a wide array of settings. Is the dieter really sorry with themselves for the nightly binge session of ice cream? Is the habitual traffic offender really sorry when they apologize to the judge for that tenth speeding ticket? Is the employee really sorry when they show up late the umpteenth time for an important meeting?
Perhaps we could all remember that the very words of “Im sorry” can be incredibly powerful words. These two simple words have literally stopped countries from going to war. Conversely, when abused, as they often are, these words can become as worthless as a white crayon.