Gil Mertz | Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word

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If you’re old enough to admit it, you will recall the iconic line from the movie “Love Story,” “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” That sounds oddly profound, like it belongs on a bumper sticker, but it is the exact opposite of what love means. Billy Graham’s wife Ruth often said that a good marriage is the union of two good forgivers, which is also true for any meaningful relationship. 

Since apologies are so rare, let’s take a closer look. Any apology should be voluntary and not forced because of outside pressure. The goal should be to express regret for something wrong and not a platform to vent anger. It should be done with humility, knowing that no one is perfect. An apology should be empathetic by trying to understand the offended person’s perspective. 

An authentic apology means taking full responsibility with no excuses, no explanations and not blaming others for what you’ve done wrong. It should be specific by providing details of the offense and not some fake, one-size-fits-all apology. 

And when we apologize, we make ourselves vulnerable because it may not be received well. But to make things right, it’s worth the risk. 

Many a politician has said something stupid and regrettable but sorry seems to be the hardest word. Doesn’t it make you want to cringe when a politician says, “If comparing my opponent to Adolf Hitler offended anyone, THEN I apologize.” 

That’s about as heart-warming as a bouquet of plastic roses.

A good political apology came back when Missouri congressman Todd Akin was well ahead in the polls for the state’s Senate race against incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill. In a now infamous interview, he spoke of “legitimate rape,” which rightly created a firestorm. 

Akin clarified his statement and created a 30-second ad in which he said, “Rape is an evil act. I used the wrong words in the wrong way and for that I apologize… The mistake I made was in the words I said, not in the heart I hold. I ask for your forgiveness.”

He properly owned his mistake, sincerely apologized and specifically asked for forgiveness. But in the world of politics, forgiveness never appears to be an option if someone makes a mistake. Democrats saw blood in the water and Republicans threw Akin under the bus. He lost in a landslide and is now little more than a sad footnote in history.

A bad political apology is when Sen. Chuck Schumer recently spoke at an abortion rights rally in which he angrily shouted, “I want to tell you, Gorsuch. I want to tell you, Kavanaugh. You have released the whirlwind, and you will pay the price! You won’t know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions!” 

Another firestorm rightly ensued from Schumer’s own stupid remark.  

A Schumer spokesman said that when his boss specifically called out Supreme Court Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, he was REALLY talking to Republicans. We know that Schumer thinks voters are stupid, but sometimes he makes it embarrassingly obvious.

When that phony excuse failed, Schumer then went to the Senate floor to issue his apology by saying, “I’m from Brooklyn. We speak in strong language. I shouldn’t have used the words I did, but in no way was I making a threat. I feel so deeply the anger of women all across America about Senate Republicans and the courts working hand in glove to take down Roe v. Wade.”

No apology or seeking forgiveness. Instead, we should excuse his strong language because he’s from Brooklyn. Telling Gorsuch and Kavanaugh that they will pay a price and they won’t know what hit them were not threats. And lastly, his anger is justified because of those evil, woman-hating Republicans. 

Despite Akin’s request for forgiveness for his regrettable comment, it never came and it cost him his political career. Meanwhile, there will be no price whatsoever for Schumer’s offensive comment or his disappointing non-apology. If nothing else, we can all learn from Schumer as an example of what NOT to do when it comes to our own personal relationships. 

When offering an apology, a good rule to follow is that the level of repentance will determine the level of acceptance. If an apology is full of excuses and blaming, it will result in an empty, shallow response. 

But if it is heartfelt, humble and real, it will most often be met with open arms and a desire to restore the relationship. With respect to Elton John’s old song, sorry shouldn’t be the hardest word to say.

Gil Mertz is a Thousand Oaks resident.

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