Tuesday, January 25, 2011

"Oh, That's Okay"

Squeak, squeak, scrape.

That’s the sound of me pushing my soap box across the floor. I’m about to step up and give you an ear full. Be warned.

“I’m sorry.”

These two words cause me a lot of anguish. But it’s not what you might think.

It’s not that I find it difficult to apologize (or that I find it easy). It’s not that I think anybody owes me an apology. It’s that our society doesn’t really know what to do with those two little words.

First of all, we quite often use “I’m sorry” when we really mean “I apologize.” The phrase “I’m sorry” means “to be filled with sorrow.” For example, it’s a common practice to say “I’m sorry” to someone who has just experienced the loss of a loved one. You’re letting that person know that you are filled with sorrow over his or her loss. You’re not apologizing for anything.

I doubt that I’ll be able to get the entire English speaking world to say “I apologize” when that is what they mean rather than “I’m sorry.” And I can’t say it’s wrong to use “I’m sorry” in this way. I’m sure I do it myself. But it would be more accurate and more clear to use “I apologize” when that is what we’re really trying to say.

What bothers me even more is that our society doesn’t know how to respond to an apology. Let me give you a for instance.

After a recent shopping trip, a friend of mine discovered her four-year-old daughter came home with a candy bar that was not paid for, if you know what I mean. After confirming the suspicion that the candy was hijacked from the store, and after a conversation about the fact that stealing is wrong, my friend returned to the store with her daughter so little darlin' could confess to the manager what she’d done and ask for forgiveness.

With a little help from Mom, the sweetie told the store manager she’d stolen a candy bar.

“I’m sorry,” the child humbly confessed.

“Oh, that’s okay,” the manager responded.

My friend wanted to strangle the shopkeeper (though that would have required more apologizing so she refrained). “Don’t tell her it’s okay,” my friend wanted to say. “It’s not okay!”

I was equally appalled. We the people need to learn how to say “I forgive you.” That’s the proper response to an apology (provided you’re willing to extend forgiveness). Or perhaps "I accept your apology." Or at the very least, “Thank you for the apology.” And sometimes it’s appropriate to say, “That’s so nice of you, but I don’t feel like an apology is necessary.” Anything but “that’s okay.” If it were okay, there would be no need to apologize!

Please, people. Formulate a good response of your own, practice it privately if you must, but don’t tell me “it’s okay.” It’s not okay.

Squeak, squeak, scrape.