Do you know what the three most powerful words in the English language are? Think about it for a moment.
You might be thinking “I love you”, and while love it very powerful, that isn’t it. Then perhaps “I hate you”, after all hate is such a strong word, but no, that isn’t it either.
I would suggest that the most powerful three words you can say to someone are: “I am sorry”. Those three simple words are so thoroughly potent that’s its practically magic. It can pierce the thickest hide and the blackest hearts. When said with sincerity it will bring the hardest men to tears and calm the angriest rage. Truncate it further to two words — “I’m sorry” — and it loses none of it’s power.
Friday evening my husband (Mr. Perfect) was driving the family to dinner. The roads were thick with evening commuters eager to get somewhere to start their weekend. Mr. Perfect made a right turn after stopping at a red light, but didn’t notice that he had just pulled in front of a pickup truck who was barreling through the intersection. The truck had to slow down and change lanes; nothing dangerous, but inconvenient for the other driver. The driver of the truck, a young man in his 20s, passed on our left while blowing his horn and making gestures.
We met again at the next intersection a few hundred yards down the road. The young man had put his passenger window down and was fully enraged shouting at my husband as we pulled alongside him. I knew where this was going and I begged him not to engage with the road rager. I said something along the lines of, “No, don’t, the kids are in the car!”
Mr. Perfect rolls down his own window to let in the full barrage of profanities and challenges to fisticuffs. Rather than dish the obsenities back at the youth, or accept his challenge to get out and settle this like “men” in the middle of traffic, my husband responded in a way that totally surprised me as well as himself. He sticks his head out of the window, looks the younger man in the eyes, and says to him loud and clear: “I’m sorry.” That was it; that was all.
The enraged youth instantly goes calm. His bright red countenance changed in the blink of an eye from wanting to commit murder a moment ago, to one resembling a neutered fawn. The driver of the truck replied with a simple, “Okay”, and rolled up his window. Mr. Perfect had totally diffused the situation in a way that nothing else could have. It was truly magic and it opened my eyes to the potency of that phrase.
Those words “I’m sorry” are not always easy to say, which is why we don’t hear it or say it as often as we should. As humans we have a strong urge to be right, and we tend to feel deep in our being that to sincerely apologize would compromise our survival. Oddly the more wrong we are, even when its completely obvious to yourself and everyone else, the more difficult it is to say that we’re sorry. It takes courage to be the first to say that you’re sorry, but when you do its like a silver bullet. I’ve heard it said that to apologize is to show weakness. Hogwash! A sincere apology can often require tremendous personal strength.
Two of the hardest and surliest men I’ve ever known, my uncle and my father, had a quarrel many years ago which ended their formerly close relationship. Words had been said that couldn’t be unsaid and they refused to speak to or even see one another for years. Both men held the opinion that the other one was wrong and neither one of them was going to be the first to extend the olive branch. I could see that each man wanted the quarrel to end, but neither would meet the other half way.
After more than a decade apart the brothers were forced to meet due to the birth of a new baby in the family. The two met, shook hands, nodded at one another, grunted, and then silence. Finally my father says to his brother, “I’m sorry.” Both men hugged and began to cry like children. These two hard headed fools had wasted 1/8th of their lives apart because they couldn’t say those words.
It isn’t enough to simply say “sorry” — for some reason that word alone lacks sincerity. We hear that from children often when we force them to say sorry and it comes across as meaningless. “Sorry” by itself just doesn’t cut it; it sounds flippant or even disdainful. But “I’m sorry” or “I am sorry” will dissolve anything. Keep that in mind when you make your kids apologize, as well as for yourself. Its worth noting that we demand our kids to say it, but adults so infrequently do.
Try it next time you are having a quarrel with your spouse. Don’t be afraid to say it to your kids if you wrongly discipline them inappropriately in a fit of anger. In fact it sets a good example for our kids to hear us saying “I’m sorry” when we are wrong.
“I am sorry” truly are magic words. Keep it in your back pocket and watch how well you can improve situations around you when appropriately used.