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No Elton, sorry is the easiest word

February 8, 2011

Elton John once sang that ‘sorry seems to be the hardest word’.  Now, this is a good little lyric but is it true?  To answer that we need to look at the ways we say sorry and on which occasions in life.

When we spill some tea or bump into someone in a shop we can say sorry.  It is a little, throwaway word to smooth over an awkward situation and it works well for those little frictions in life.  Sorry is perfect here as it is easy to say and easy to receive.

What about when things get more serious?  What if the situation has caused real hurt to people?  Or what if it involves those powerful emotions between two people?  Try these on for size:

The drink driver who kills someone’s mother/father/son/daughter.

The business person who has raided the pension fund and lost the money.

The man/woman caught having an illicit affair.

Can ‘sorry’ even come close to expressing anything useful  in situations like these?  It’s still easy to say, but oh so hard to receive.  People’s lives have been shattered by someone’s actions and one tiny word is supposed to smooth it over, make everything alright?  Not on its own it won’t.

Sorry though, like many words, is versatile.  If used in conjunction with a full acceptance of what a person has done wrong and why they know it was wrong does it become more meaningful, even in serious cases?  Well, I don’t think it can ever suffice for cases like the first example above.

In cases like the second example above ‘sorry’ and a full and frank admission of failures could have meaning if accompanied by some outline of how people will be recompensed for what was lost.  So far then, ‘sorry’ is a fairly limp tool for repairing damage on its own.

What about cases like the final example above?  To many wronged like this, it is as bad a betrayal as they can imagine.  A ‘sorry’ and some words about how and why it was wrong are not going to help much.  There can be no recompense offered; what could replace what’s gone?  So can ‘sorry’ effect a temporary repair while more lasting, substantial relationship work is done?

Well, I’ve just realised I’m asking the wrong person.  I don’t know the answer.  My gut instinct is that, like in the first example, something important is gone forever and no amount of ‘sorry’ or future good behaviour is going to make it right.

Sorry is the easiest word and it’s meant to be.  It is designed for little issues between people, to smooth over life’s wrinkles.  It is no good for anything important and anyone who uses it for those purposes is looking for an easy way out of responsibility.

So ‘sorry’ is not the hardest word, Elton.  Quite the opposite.  Keep tinkling away though, you’ll make it one day.  And I’m sorry for dragging you into all this.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. madvixen permalink
    February 12, 2011 18:13

    Which is why the Danish have so many separate words for it. There’s a “sorry I split your tea” sorry as well as “sorry I ran over your dog” sorry. We have quite a poor language really.

    • February 12, 2011 18:20

      In a lot of ways we do. At least we’ve only got one word for snow though :o)

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