When I was little, my parents admonished my sister and me over and over to use the magic words, “please” and “thank you.” The lesson has stuck, and hopefully has been instilled in my own progeny…I see inconsistent evidence occasionally, and still verbally reinforce it.
But, I’d like to suggest that two other words are imbued with far greater power than these bywords of social convention and courtesy. I suspect it is no coincidence that these words are more powerful because they are more costly to say, although certainly as simple: “I’m sorry.”
If the first word adorable, wide-eyed tiny people learn to say is “NO!” [and it often is], close on its heels should be this acknowledgement of personal responsibility and remorse. How many international incidents and domestic disputes could be quickly defused with this simple, surefire remedy?
I was reminded of this recently when someone near and dear to my heart began the day with an unexpected and uncalled for verbal salvo. Its stinging shrapnel seemed to hang in the air a moment before the speaker departed, leaving his words to drift down like unseen ash. Caught unaware and unprotected, the two of us in the target range could only look at each other.
The whole day dragged on as I tried to buffet away my hurt and consequent anger. Letting it “in one ear and out the other” has always been easier said than done for me.
Because relating to this person has been painful for so long, it was easy for me to make this incident a “tipping point.” As injured parties, we want to retaliate, and we want to have impact. My hurt feelings seethed on the back burner all day.
So it was a surprise, in the late afternoon, to see this familiar face linger a moment before emerging from his car with an apology on his lips -- direct, intentional, immediate, and unexpected. The buttoned up, long suffering reserve I had adopted as my mode of protection seemed to melt away in my surprise. Tipping point? What tipping point? I had forgotten how powerful those two words could be.
One incident-specific “I’m sorry” doesn’t undo a backlog of old pain.
But it’s a start.