Saying “I’m sorry” is a sorry habit.

Today I read three business articles that dealt with counterproductive habits in the workplace. A website, quote-investigator, got the following question: When I mentioned this adage to a friend he claimed that it was in the Bible, but it does not sound very Biblical to me. Can you resolve this dispute?

“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.”

Quote Investigator: “There is a biblical proverb that expresses a similar idea, namely Proverbs 17:28. Here is the New International Version of this verse:  

“Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.”

“The quotations that the questioner listed use a distinctive formulation that is certainly more humorous. In the biblical version one is thought wise if one remains silent, but in the questioner’s statements the word “wise” is not used. Remaining silent simply allows one to avoid the fate of being thought a fool or stupid. This maxim has many different forms, and it is often ascribed to Abraham Lincoln or Mark Twain. However, there is no substantive evidence that either of these famous individuals employed the maxim.”

Among the worst verbal habits is overuse of “sorry”, sounding like you’re apologizing. For what? With some people, for everything. But you might wonder, when is it appropriate, and even courageous, to say, “I’m sorry”? How about never! Sorry means nothing, it’s a verbal tic, and deceptive. Sorry you were caught? Sorry that you made a common human mistake? Sorry might be how you feel, or think you’re supposed to feel, but who really cares? What about forgiveness? This is how my wife and I taught our children to ask for forgiveness, and to forgive:

1. State the wrong: “I called you a dirty name. I was wrong to do that.” 2. Eschew the excuses and reasons: Don’t try to explain why, they don’t care, it just sounds mushy, like you are simultaneously asking forgiveness and excusing yourself. 3. Explicitly ask to be forgiven: “Would you please forgive me?” 4. If it’s someone you love and not inappropriate, hug and tell them “I love you.” That’s how we did it. The fruit of doing that as often as you have wronged someone is fellowship without the undercurrent of resentment.

Once, when I had just been hired by a major company as a consultant, I suggested a way to market myself to my boss. He told me not to do it. Then I went and did it anyway. Then I was caught, because one of the people i called was already a client of another consultant. Then my boss called me into his office, and had invited his boss, who invited his boss. So I was confronted with my sin by the office manager, the regional manager and the division manager (it was a big company). I really wanted this position. My boss asked me, “did you do what I told you not to do?” This was my verbatim answer. “I am guilty. I knew what you wanted, but thought I knew best, and I disregarded your explicit instructions. I excused myself by keeping to the letter while disregarding the spirit and intent of your orders.” Have you ever seen a person dumbfounded? How about three? Their mouths were literally open. Before I could screw it up by saying anything more, the regional manager spoke. “None of us have ever heard a confession of guilt before. It’s always excuses or rationalizations or denials. We literally don’t know what to do. We came here prepared to fire you.”

The division manager asked, “what do you think we should do about you?” My reply: “Well, you could still fire me, but this would benefit the company more: How about I fully confess my guilt to all the advisers in the regional quarterly meeting coming up?” They rejected that suggestion as “too harsh.” Ultimately, they did nothing, because they figured my confession was evidence I had learned my lesson. Luckily for them, I had. But here’s the real kicker: At the regional meeting, the regional manager was introducing the new associates. He introduced me as, “the most honest person I have ever met.” Unbelievable? Maybe, but such is the power of a clear, short, self honest confession of guilt. I never said I was sorry, or hung my head. In fact, walking around looking down is another of those counterproductive habits. Be direct and honest, not arrogant. 

Author: iamcurmudgeon

When I began this blog, I was a 70 year old man, with a young mind and a body trying to recover from a stroke, and my purpose for this whole blog thing is to provoke thinking, to ridicule reflex reaction, and provide a legacy to my children.

One thought on “Saying “I’m sorry” is a sorry habit.”

  1. Great post! As you discovered, forgiveness is the naturally occurring result. This the key to living together but very difficult to attain without the Lord at work. You really presented it beautifully….


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