“I’m Sorry” – The Great Absolution

A woman cut me off in traffic the other day. When we ended up side-by-side, as inevitably happens, she looked over mouthed “Sorry.” I guess that was better than flipping me the bird. But it didn’t excuse the poor decision she had made and she knew it.

I’m not one for preaching and moralizing. But, sadly, this kind of behavior has become normalized and not just in traffic. A colleague misses an appointment. A team member is late with a project. A friend never shows up on time for the occasional lunch, but always has a story about why he’s late. We stew. We fume. We learn to adjust. They say, “I’m sorry.” We say, “That’s all right,” when it really isn’t.

Some argue that busy people deserve some slack because they’re busy people. But that’s not true. There have been US presidents who have been punctual and held those around them to that standard. There are also been US presidents whose staff learned over time to move every appointment back 45 minutes to accommodate constant tardiness. There are times, of course, when “stuff” happens. We all get that. But when “stuff” becomes the consistent theme, I would argue this is a lack of respect for colleagues, friends and the strangers with whom we inevitably interact.

The people I admire most and try to spend time with, are those who simply follow through on commitments in a timely way and are thoughtful of others, whether stranger or friend. Interestingly, all those people seem to find each other amidst those who can’t seem to respect our time and extend common courtesy.  When I’m checking references, asking for help, or looking for ideas, they are the first people I turn to. They are generally the most willing to step up when needed. They know that I will do the same for them. We recognize that each other’s time is valuable and possess the empathy to act respectfully.

As we begin the new year, why not make a commitment to reduce the “I’m sorrys” in your life. Trust me. Your effort will be reciprocated by the best people around you.

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