"Sorry" Isn't Always the Hardest Word
|by Suzie Johnson|
A few months ago I attended a one day seminar for women that was, over all, a positive experience. But there was one thing the instructor said that resonated with me in a negative way.
“Never apologize. When women apologize,” she said, “we lose credibility.”
Is that really true? I had to stop and think about it for a while. Just because I paid for a seminar didn’t mean everything the instructor said was the truth. I can’t say I shrugged off her comment, because I didn’t. It bothered me, and I’ve mulled it over in my mind time and again. If I hurt someone, if I offend someone, of course I’m going to apologize. What about when we confess our sins to God? Don’t we do that with remorse and sorrow in our heart? Isn’t that part of a repentant spirit? What could be wrong with that?
Recently, my co-worker, Becky, was having a communication problem. She was receiving training via web-conferences, in order to train others to use a new software program. The vendor told her not to hesitate to ask if she had any questions. But every time Becky would ask a question the vendor would start by saying, “Well. I already showed that to you but since you don’t remember…I’ll show you again.”
Becky felt incompetent. The next time she needed to call the vendor, she said, “Maybe I should start by saying ‘I’m sorry, I know you probably showed this to me before, but apparently I don’t remember. I guess you need to show me again.’”
“No,” I said immediately. “You have nothing to apologize for. She told you to call if you have questions, so you shouldn't have to apologize.”
In this case, I agree with the instructor. She’s absolutely right that we lose credibility when we apologize then qualify it with a self-criticism. Then, the more I thought about it, the more I became aware of those around me apologizing for things that seemed insignificant; an interruption, talking too loud, not answering the phone fast enough. The more I became aware of it, the more I became realized I was also apologizing frequently.
I decided to try counting how many times I apologized in one day.
First thing Monday morning, I was at the drive-through window getting my iced-tea. When I went to pay, I realized I needed to get more change out of my wallet. As I dug for seven more cents, I heard myself utter those dreaded words: “I’m sorry.”
I was in a meeting later that day. My pencil rolled on to someone else’s paper. I picked it up, and what do you think I said?
As I was walking down the hall and someone cut the corner and almost ran into me. Who apologized? You guessed it!
Then I thought back over my day, trying to count up all the times I apologized for something. I couldn’t. Sometime during the day I’d lost track. It struck me then, if you say “I’m sorry” so many times during the day that you can’t even remember the reason…
...there’s a problem...
This is what the seminar instructor meant. This is how an apology could cause you to lose credibility. It begins to sound trite, trivial, meaningless. Please don’t misunderstand me. I do not for one minute believe we should not apologize when it’s warranted. As Christians and as human beings, we most definitely should.
But when we’re saying it out of an eagerness to please someone, because of low self-esteem, or because it’s simply a habit, “sorry” will lose its meaning.
In Matthew 5:37, Jesus said, “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’, ‘No’; anything less is from the evil one.”;He wants us to be known as people of our word. Similarly, let your “sorry” mean “sorry”, and not: “I’m stupid, dumb, incompetent, or clumsy.” We don’t want to lose credibility. We want to be people of our word.
For me, what may have once been low self-esteem is now actually a habit. I tackled the self-esteem issue, and now I intend to tackle this habit.
How about you? Do you tend to apologize too much? If you don’t, does it bother you when other people do?
Do you agree or disagree that we can apologize too much?
Suzie Johnson has won several awards for her inspirational novels (writing as Susan Diane Johnson), including the Maggie, Lone Star, Heart of the West, and Beacon awards, as well as finaling in the Touched by Love, Finally A Bride, Linda Howard Award for Excellence, and Virginia's Fool For Love contests. She is a member of ACFW, RWA, and is a cancer registrar at her local hospital. The mother of a wonderful young man who makes her proud every day, she lives with her husband and little kitten on an island in the Pacific Northwest. And although the beaches are rocky instead of sandy, lined with Madronas and Evergreens instead of Palm trees, and the surf is much to cold for wading, it is still the perfect spot for writing romantic fiction. You can visit her blog, Suzie's Writing Place at http://suzieswritingplace.blogspot.com/.