Just Say, “I’m Sorry!”

by | Mar 11, 2024 | Blog

When did you last say, “I’m sorry?” I did to my wife earlier this week. The apology did not concern a serious marital matter but was called for. What does it take to say, “I’m sorry?” Let’s find out.

On July 7, 2016, I traveled with the Arlington Lamar High School 7 on 7 football team to College Station, Texas for the State Championship Tournament. At night I played hotel hall cop to make sure the players were quiet at 10:00 p.m., in their rooms by 11:30 p.m., and lights out by 11:59 p.m.

The first night I monitored the hallway, I sat outside my room with the door closed. A woman walked by. No big deal. A few minutes later when she returned to her room, she saw me standing outside my room with the door closed. As she passed, she said, “Just say, ‘I’m sorry!’”

That’s right. We’re usually shut out of people’s lives until we say we’re sorry.  It can be hard to say, and even when we do, sometimes it’s not enough. Sometimes we need eight other words to follow the apology. I’m going to tell you what those eight words are, but before I do, I want to review the elements of apologizing.

In his book How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie included a chapter titled “If You’re Wrong, Admit It.” He begins the chapter with a story about taking his little Boston bulldog Rex for a walk in a nearby forested park. Because other people at the park rarely frequented the park and Rex was a friendly dog, Carnegie let him run free without his leash or muzzle.

On one occasion, Dale and Rex met a mounted policeman in the park. The policeman questioned Carnegie about his dog running loose and asked him, “Don’t you know that it’s against the law?”

“Yes, I know it is, but I didn’t think he would do any harm out here.”

The officer retorted, “You didn’t think! You didn’t think!”

The officer told him with a stern voice that he would let the incident pass that time, but if it happened again, he would have to face a judge.

Before a week went by, Rex got tired of wearing the muzzle and being restrained by the leash. Carnegie took the risk and let him run and romp unleashed. The same police officer saw Rex running free. Carnegie knew he needed to take the initiative with the policeman and admit he’d violated his agreement.

The first element in saying ‘I’m sorry’ is recognizing we’ve done or said something wrong, bad, or hurtful.  Late the second night in the College Station hotel hallway, a coach and I were talking loudly. The occupant of the room across the hallway opened his door and stuck out his sleepy-eyed head. Without saying a word, we got his message. The next night the same thing happened. I realized we had been disrespectful of the man’s right to a quiet hallway after 10 p.m.

When apologizing, we must also take responsibility for the wrong. I did not monitor my behavior in the hotel hallway. Expecting the players to be quiet required me to hold myself to the same standard. I was wrong, and I needed to take responsibility for disrupting the man’s sleep two nights.

The next element in saying ‘I’m sorry’ is going to the person and speaking to them privately. I was about to enjoy my continental breakfast at the hotel when I spotted the man whose sleep I had disrupted two nights in a row. I excused myself from my friends, walked over to the man and apologized to him. I had been inconsiderate of his right to a quiet hallway. He accepted my apology. That was a relief.

Guess who rode with me on the elevator to the third floor after finishing our breakfasts? You guessed it. The man told me he was from England. I mentioned the United Kingdom had been in the news in regard to its vote to withdraw from the European Union. He said sadly, “We don’t have a government now.” My apology softened his heart to talk about the disappointing event for him. Apologies can open people’s hearts.

Sometimes, however, we might need to say more than just ‘I’m sorry.’ We may need to add eight more words. Those words are “What can I do to make things right?” In 2016, a Cleveland Browns NFL running back posted an offensive photo related to the shooting of police officers in Dallas. He later apologized for posting the photo, but the president of the Cleveland Police Patrolman’s Association said his apology wasn’t enough. He needed to apologize to the families of the slain Dallas police officers and donate money to the Dallas Fallen Officer Foundation. The running back promised to donate his first paycheck to the foundation. Be ready to say, “What can I do to make things right?” after apologizing.

I will probably never be told again by a woman in a hotel hallway, “Just say, ‘I’m sorry.’” We may, however, find ourselves needing to say it at home, in the office, at church, or on the recreational field. We can make the repair effort if we recognize the fault, speak to the person, and even ask, if necessary, “What can I do to make things right?”





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