When “I’m Sorry Is Sorry”

When “I’m Sorry Is Sorry”

In my family-especially between my youngest sister and I-we have an expression that we use with some degree of regularity. When something is not very good, my sister and I say that it is “sorry”. My sister became a big football fan after she became an adult (after showing zero interest in any kind of sport while we were growing up) and “sorry” is an adjective that we use to describe bad football teams or bad football players.We say that Such-and Such football team is “sorry” (an expression we have used too often in describing our hometown team-the Cleveland Browns).

I thought about that expression recently as it related to an athlete who used to play for one of my hometown teams-the professional basketball player, Kyrie Irving-who used to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers. 

Now-Kyrie Irving is not “sorry” at all as a basketball player-indeed, he is one of the most skilled basketball players I have seen in the many years I have been watching basketball (since the mid 1960s). 

But recently, Kyrie Irving got into a lot of trouble and cost himself a lot of money (literally, millions of dollars) because he refused for a long time to do something a lot of people either refuse to do at all-or, when they do it, they do it poorly. Kyrie Irving refused-for a long time, anyway-to say, “I’m sorry”. 

Kyrie Irving tweeted a link to a documentary that contained antisemitic references. When called out for doing so, instead of expressing regret for connecting himself and his team to such inappropriate references, Kyrie Irving dug in his heels when it should have been clear to him that the only way out of the situation was to apologize-and that the situation was only going to get worse until he did. 

He finally did apologize but only after nearly a week of digging in his heels, making all kinds of excuses and trying to explain his way out of the situation. He wound up being suspended without pay for 8 games-which on an approximately 40 million dollar contract cost him between 3 and 4 million dollars, plus, Nike suspended his 11 million dollar shoe deal. 

All of this would have been avoided if Kyrie Irving had said at the very beginning of all of this: I should not have tweeted a link to a documentary that contained antisemitism. I’m sorry. 

Here are some things that I have learned (and am still learning) from situations like Kyrie Irving’s situation:

       1. If You Offend Someone-Apologize. Don’t make excuses, don’t try to explain. Just apologize-even if you did not intend to offend and the person took what you said or did in an entirely different way than how you meant it. The fact is, your intentions do not matter to the person whom you have offended. 

In fact, if a person is offended by something you did or said, making excuses or giving explanations will almost always make the situation worse. Typically, the person who is offended doesn’t want to hear explanations, they don’t want to hear excuses-they only want to hear one thing from the person who offended them: “I’m sorry”. 

I am ashamed to say that it took me years to learn that-and sometimes, I still forget. But generally speaking-you are responsible for how you make someone else feel-even if you did not intend to make them feel that way or you do not understand why they feel that way or (and this really gets people in trouble) you don’t think that they should feel that way. 

Let’s look at it this way: I knew someone years ago whose gun accidentally went off and they were killed. They did not intend for the gun to fire and for the bullet from that gun to kill them. But the fact that they did not intend for the gun to fire did not at all change the result-they still died. 

You may not have intended for the person to be hurt by what you said or did; I suspect that is usually the case. I suspect that most people never intended to hurt the person that they hurt. 

But if a person is hurt, the fact that the person did not intend to hurt them, does not change the fact that they are hurt. 

At the end of the day, if someone is hurt by something that we said or did, there are almost always only one of two choices we as the offender have: Make excuses or make things right. 

As fallen human beings, too often, we are more interested in being proven right than making things right. And that almost always makes things worse for the person whom we have hurt-and for our relationship with them. 

      2. The person who has been hurt has a responsibility as well: Go to the person-not your friends; go to the person who hurt you and tell them in a civil and respectful manner that they hurt you. 

I remember years ago as a young Pastor, speaking to one of my best members who had fallen out with another one of my best members. They used to be best friends but by this time, they had been estranged for years. 

I remember asking my church member “Do you remember what caused you to fall out with X?” I still remember the church member, slowly and sadly, shaking their head. They couldn’t remember the thing that cost them their friend. 

I suspect that if when we are first offended by someone, we prayed and then, went to them, and in a civil and respectful manner, shared with them the thing that they did or said that offended us, most of the things that separate people, would be resolved-especially if the offender takes responsibility for the fact that-intentionally or not-they hurt someone and simply apologized. 

To go to someone else-or, to keep the hurt inside and allow it to fester-is not going to solve the problem. If that problem between you and someone is going to be solved, it is going to be solved because you went to that someone-instead of going to someone else.   

That is not to say that sometimes it is not helpful to go to a third party to get some perspective. Everyone needs someone in their lives who will tell them what they need to hear about themselves-not just what they want to hear. The late Oakwood University professor, Dr. G. Russell Seay and I used to do that for each other. We used to have what we would call “sanity checks”, where we would bounce things off of each other. My wife helps me with those kinds of things as well. 

But you have to want to have that kind of person in your life and be willing to listen to them-even when they are saying things that you do not want to hear. Kyrie Irving could have used someone like that-someone who would tell him that there was no way his situation was going to end well without an apology. Maybe he had someone like that and he just decided not to listen to them. 

But as fallen human beings, our tendency is to want to find people who will agree with us and not challenge us. When we have a problem with someone, going to a third party just to vent and to hear an echo of what we want to hear is not called getting perspective, it is called gossip. 

      3. When someone whom we have offended comes to us, it is not enough to apologize, we have to apologize the right way. That is, we have to take full responsibility for how we have made the other person feel and not subtly (or sometimes, not so subtly) place the blame back on them. 

Here are some examples of what NOT to say when someone whom you have offended comes to you:

“I am sorry if I have offended you”. They wouldn’t be coming to you if you hadn’t offended them. Just say you are sorry-and mean it. After all, aren’t you sorry that-however unintentionally-you caused someone pain?

“I am sorry you took it that way”, or its first cousin, “I am sorry you feel that way”. This is a terrible apology; it’s what I call “The Sorry I’m Sorry”. 

It essentially places the responsibility for the hurt that you have caused back on the person whom you have hurt. It basically says to that person that they are the reason for why they are hurt-not you. That there would not be a problem if they were not so sensitive or if they hadn’t taken things the wrong way, etc. 

Telling someone whom you have hurt that they are wrong is a terrible strategy for making things right. But it is something that I suspect all of us have done at one time or another. I know that I have done it. 

And the reason why we do it is because human nature tends to want to be proven right more than it wants to get things right. 

Let’s look at it this way: If I am driving down the street and someone runs a traffic light in a different direction, I can do one of two things: I can keep going-even if it means a high speed crash-because I am “right” OR, I can do everything I can do to avoid the crash and save my life. 

There have been far too many relationships that have “crashed” and far too many people who have been hurt because as fallen humans, often times, we are more interested in being proven right, than in making things right. There have been far too many relationships that have experienced permanent damage that could have been avoided by two words: I’m sorry. 

3. Finally-here’s the good news: Most of us understand the need to both ask for and be given forgiveness. And on those occasions when we put aside the original sin-pride-and ask for or give the forgiveness for and from each other that we all at some point need, we discover that forgiveness is a wonderful and freeing thing. 

On my best days, I am able to remember that no one has ever done to me what I have regularly done to Jesus. But He forgives me and if He can do that after all that I have done to Him, then there is no excuse for me to not to ask for and to give forgiveness to anyone and everyone else.  

Maybe that is true of you as well.