Home » Contemplation » Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word

Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word

Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word by Elton John was huge a hit  in 1976. I’m wondering if the word sorry is still a hard word to say today? It can be a balm, or a bane.

Growing up, saying I’m sorry was serious business in my family. I don’t remember needing to be prompted. I’m more of the over-apologizing type. Occasionally, I was mostly sorry because of the consequences. Usually, I was truly sorry when my behavior had an adverse affect on someone else. Sometimes both came into play, like the one-and-only time I ever stuck my tongue out at my Mom. It had an adverse affect on her heart and on my bottom.

Like Love and Hate, Sorry used to be a strong word. It was difficult to say because it meant something. Sorry from a sincere heart or choked out through tears is a balm. Sorry said with a raised eyebrow, or a hint of a smile is a bane.

Bane first: Oh, I took your parking spot. Sorry. I spilled my latte on your jacket. Sorry. I dinged your car door. Sorry about that. You lost your job. Sorry to hear it. I hurt you. I’m sorry you feel that way. (implied: you’re so thin-skinned)

Often, somewhere hidden in I’m sorry is a lack of compassion tainted with the innuendo of guilt. You brought it on yourself; other people have it so much worse; get a life; get over yourself; or any of many other less than genuine expressions of care and concern. When used that way, sorry is the social band-aid that doesn’t heal what ails us.

The real sorry:


–adjective, -ri·er, -ri·est.

1. feeling regret, compunction, sympathy, pity, etc.: to be sorry for a remark; to be sorry for someone in trouble.
2. regrettable or deplorable; unfortunate; tragic: a sorry situation; to come to a sorry end.
3. sorrowful, grieved, or sad
When we’re truly sorry, in any of the ways described above, sorry is a kind and tender word.
Over the course of the next few nights, I’d like to begin a dialogue with you. To start with, I keep hearing a phrase over and over that really bothers me. I’m not questioning the intent, only the value:
I’m sorry for your loss.

What does that mean? I hear it in conversations and on TV in everything from Criminal Minds to Reality TV to commercials. This week I’ve heard it applied to: the death of a loved one; lost car keys; the end of a relationship; the death of a pet; a disappointing outcome; a poker game; the stock market and a car repo.
It’s become the thing to say when we don’t know what to say, or in some cases, just don’t want to bother.
It feels insipid and trite to me. Wouldn’t it be better to stop with a simple I’m so sorry or to add something substantial when there’s more to say? How do you shrink the death of a spouse or a parent or a child into something as small as a loss?
For the next few nights, I’d like to look at the things we say when someone is hurting: not as an academic discussion but because right now, so many people I love are in a world of hurt. If you’re not comfortable with that, this would be a good week to read something else.
If you’re willing to share your thoughts and feelings, I’d be honored.
Tomorrow’s topic: What do you say to a heart that’s breaking? I’d love your input.

6 thoughts on “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word

  1. I don’t know – I think Trudy has it right. There are times when there are no good words to say, but conveying support is important. And even though the words themselves may not help much, they can let us know that others recognize the pain and are thinking about it and us. I would appreciate that over silence.

    • Dan – I agree. I’ve stumbled on both ends: most often by saying too much, but also by saying too little. The difficulty is listening until I hear what the other person needs, not what I think I would want if I were in their place.

  2. Words with multiple means abound. Feelings are so difficult to express with a word. Really, actions speak the truth, in my humble opinion. The depth of the feeling, the ability to express oneself, fear of transparency, the fear of being defined, the ability to love, the ability to feel, the choice to care, the degree to which one cares; these are most easily reflected in ones actions-not words. BUT, if all we have at our disposal is a word, hopefully the person on the receiving end (knowing us) will accept the word as a definition of our true feelings and desires. I know you want a non-academic discussion, so I offer this; show you care by staying in touch by what ever means are at your disposal, and as often as you can, let them know you are there sharing in their situation by being present in spirit, if not in person.

  3. While I can’t take away your pain, I will always be there for you. Many times we don’t know what a person is feeling but we can be there to listen.

    • Jill, you’re a day ahead of me! I’m just now writing tomorrow’s post and I completely agree. We can’t take away someone’s pain. Trying to make it better is one of the biggest errors I think we make. It’s certainly one I have to fight. And no matter how well we know someone, we don’t know how they feel, because we aren’t able to be in that inner sanctum. I really appreciate your thoughtful comments.

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