Saying sorry is sometimes too easy
July 30, 2004
Saying “I’m sorry!” has become so easy nowadays that it often loses its real meaning. It is the genuine “sorries” that are the hardest to express in words. And even harder, is knowing when to say “I’m sorry!”
Do you apologize when you are not truly sorry just to make peace with someone or because others are watching? Say you are truly sorry but only half sorry, do you still apologize?
In a perfect world you could say, “I’m sorry for x and y, but as for A, B and C, I meant that!” The person would then say “Apology accepted for x and y!” and we’d live happily ever after, until the next falling out.
But in the real world, it’s not that simple. Many people will carry a grudge for A, B and C, regardless of your apology for x and y, and that’s if you are lucky enough to even get that in.
Here’s another scenario. Let’s say you were slightly out of line, but things beyond your control caused things to get blown out of proportion, despite your good intentions. Is a complete apology still in order?
I don’t have the answer. All I know is experts tell us to not keep things in or it will hurt us even more. So does that mean to apologize if something is not your fault to get a load off your mind?
From an ethical standpoint, there’s also the question of what’s more important, keeping the peace or the principle of the matter? At what expense should you keep the peace if it’s not addressing the real problem and at what expense should you cling to “the principle of the matter?” particularly if it’s simply a matter of principle.
These are some deep thoughts that have been running through my head lately. There have been a number of public apologies by celebrities and politicians over the past year. I can’t help but notice, though, that the apologies are often overdue and come about only as a result of political and social pressure. Sometimes it’s a matter of being politically correct rather than saying what’s really on their minds.
On Sept., 14, 2001, the Rev. Jerry Falwell publicly apologized for remarks be made about feminists, gays and lesbians, who he accused of bringing on the terrorist attacks. He later said only the terrorists and hijackers were to blame.
A year or two ago, Michael Jackson “apologized” for dangling his baby off a hotel balcony. Did he really mean to do that?
Who could forget his sister, Janet Jackson’s apology, after her Super Bowl stunt? She apologized for baring her breast on live TV. Does that mean she was truly sorry for this preconceived action? Was she sorry for ruining a great American family tradition? Or were Jackson and Justin Timberlake sorry that America was not receptive to their little stunt? Were they really sorry that their careers were on the line and they were at risk of being blacklisted?
Last year, Dixie Chick Natalie Maines publicly apologized to President Bush for remarks she made on stage, saying she was ashamed he was from Texas. The group took a lot of heat at first and fans threatened to boycott their concerts. However, their next CD became another chart-topper. Was it because Maines apologized and thus salvaged the trio’s endangered musical career or was their already accomplished career ever really in danger?
Some people can carry a grudge forever. As comedian George Lopez says, “Sometimes people stay mad at each other so long, that they forget why they’re even mad.” When that happens, what’s the social protocol? Is an apology still in order from one or both parties or do you just move on? Sometimes some things are better left alone.
On the other hand, some celebrities have refused to play the “What I really meant to say was...” game. Bill Cosby refused to apologize for his remarks about African-Americans at a Rainbow Coalition convention and Arnold Schwarzenegger has refused to apologize for his “girlie men” remarks about Democrats.
The words “I’m sorry!” have power when used the right way, at the right time, with the necessary ingredient of sorrow. Sometimes these two words are overused. Sometimes they are not used enough. But most often, “I’m sorry” is not heard because people put too much weight in having “the last word.”
When “I’m sorry!” is heard, it should be a true expression of sorrow and regret. Meaning, if I could do it all over again, I would do it differently. But none of us can turn back the hands of time and none of us are perfect, but Jesus. The closest we can come to perfection is by saying a heartfelt “I’m sorry” and starting over.
Helena Rodriguez is a columnist for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. She can be reached at