Practicing the art of apology


“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”
Cute rhyme, but full of lies. Words do hurt. Deeply. I’ll go as far as to say that words can hurt, and scar, long after physical wounds have healed. I bet few grown people really recall the occasional playground scrape or pain of a fist to the chin. I guarantee, however, that years after the fact, far too many recall the stinging blow of an unkind word.

It is my stock in trade to find the humorous twist in nearly anything. Before the last bat has been banished from my bedroom, I am already making notes in my head (often while still cowering under the bed).

Granted, some things are never going to be “look back and laugh” material. I’m unlikely to be at a root canal thinking “I could really get a lot of mileage out of THIS.”


Still, it can be difficult to know when something silly you are saying for fun — the humorous poke or jab, the too quickly copied note — is going to come out all wrong.

It has been said that you always hurt the one you love. That has never been my intention. Nonetheless, my spouse and children cannot actually press charges for anything I write about them (I know, I checked).

Most of my dearest friends know, accept and even expect that some semblance of their lives will show up print. Let’s face it, you go camping with me and survive that experience? That’s definitely going to make the paper.

It is the other people, the ones that don’t so much choose with their full faculties and knowledge but are stuck with me via geography, volunteerism, an online connection, customer service or random chance that I worry for.

As a professional you would think I would be immune to ever tripping up, slipping up, or putting anything in print I wouldn’t want up on a billboard. The latter being my advice to every teenager — and Internet users of any age. You would be wrong.


A few years ago I wrote what I thought was a humorous column about a school science project. That one got me hauled into the principal’s office. I was very nearly the world’s oldest recipient of in-school-detention. That is but one example. Sadly. There are more.

Being human we will misstep, misspeak and mistakenly write or say something that comes out oh-so-horribly wrong. We will end up with egg on our faces. It happens. It’s what you do after the omelet that really matters. Words are powerful.

As we read in Proverbs: 12:18 “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

I’m certain my tongue is no wiser than my fumble fingers but I do think there is an art to apology. I believe that it is vitally important to learn to say “I’m sorry.” Not “I’m sorry but …” Or “I’m sorry because …” but “I am sorry. I screwed up. You deserved better.”

It’s been pointed out by people the world over that “I’m sorry but …” is really just a way of saying “I’m sorry but it’s really not my fault.” Basically anything after the “but” says you probably aren’t really all that sorry at all.

Maya Angelou says “When you know better, you do better.”

I know better. You deserve better.

I once wrote that that I was a role model. Recently a woman who was pretty darned mad at me said “prove it.”

I can only say “I hope to.”

So with this I do.

Being a columnist who writes about my musings on life, I have opined that unlike a journalist I can make up terms like “gzillion” and fail to fact check with impunity. The truth is that I need to be more careful. I suspect with the advent of online media and more of us putting our words out there than ever before — we all do.


My New Year’s resolution, exactly a week late because, hey, my resolution is NOT punctuality, is to be careful. Careful with notes. Careful with words. Careful with feelings.

I resolve to write once and proofread twice. Three times, four if necessary, five would probably be best and six ideal.

Erma Bombeck once wrote: “Long ago it became apparent there were only two people in the world I could take a crack at in print without being sued or severely criticized: Adolph Hitler and me!”

Isn’t that just the truth Erma?

I fully admit that it is difficult sometimes for me to remember where “me” ends and “we” begin. I can make fun of “me” all I want. It’s when I hurt the “we” that we — I — have a problem.

Here’s to 2012. Do better.

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