Lesson 16: You can only say “I’m sorry” so many times

It is important to admit when you’re wrong.  Showing fallibility is a strength, not a weakness.  No one is perfect.  There is a sense of integrity and trustworthiness that is associated with a person that can be honest enough to admit errors.  This usually comes in the form of an apology or some kind of acknowledgement that you were in the wrong and is usually best accompanied by some kind of answer or solution.  Being able to admit you are sorry is important and it takes courage.  That being said, the words “I’m sorry” don’t always have the power to fix whatever mistake was made.

While they might be welcome words to hear during a difficult time, you can’t unsay or undo what has already been said or done.  No matter how honorable or noble you are and no matter what the circumstances, everyone has their own personal standards.  The lines that they have personally determined cannot be crossed if relations with them are going to continue.  Perhaps, so long as you are willing to admit your fault, it can be worked out.  But it is not usually forgotten.  It may fade, over time, but it will always be there.  The time may come when you have either gone too far, or the same infraction has occurred one too many times.

There is no easy fix.  The words “I’m sorry,” are a Band-Aid at best.  They can aid in the healing, but there is only so much they can do.  Similar to being unable to buy forgiveness, there comes a point when enough becomes enough.  Words are our most valuable resource, but they are only as valuable as the people using them determine.  If you keep making the same promise, but never deliver, your promises lose their value.  The same goes for saying “I’m sorry” too many times.  If you keep apologizing, especially if it is for the same thing, what value do you think gets placed on your apology?  “I’m sorry” starts to become associated with them thinking, “this will probably happen again,” or “how many more times will I let this happen?”

It is doubtful that you want to learn the answer to that second question.  The answer usually comes with the end of the relationship.  Say the words too often, the words lose the little healing power they possess.  While capable of fixing minor infractions, they add up.  Eventually, the power wears off.  The words get drowned out by how many times they have been used.  It eventually becomes unclear whether you actually mean it, or use it as a crutch for flaws that you know you have but are incapable or unwilling to fix.  They become irrelevant when the person receiving the apology loses faith in the value of the words and the source they are coming from.

What can you do?  Good question.  There is no easy answer.  You are going to make mistakes.  You are going to be wrong.  You might think the worst thing you can do is nothing, but that would be a mistake.  I am not advising that you never apologize or that you even keep track of how many times you tell them you are sorry.  The best course of action is to put all of your effort into making sure that you don’t repeat the same mistakes.  Mistakes are how we grow.  Mistakes are how we learn.  Don’t avoid making mistakes.  Avoid making the same mistakes.

Takeaways:

  1. Don’t be afraid to admit when you are wrong.
  2. You can’t unsay what has already been said.
  3. There is no easy fix.
  4. Your apologies are only as good as the value of your words.
  5. Don’t avoid making mistakes.  Avoid making the same mistakes.

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