Pastor Tim: When sorry seems to be the hardest word

The Rev Tim Smith, pastor at Hele Road Baptist Church in Torquay. Photo: Contributed

The Rev Tim Smith, pastor at Hele Road Baptist Church in Torquay. Photo: Contributed - Credit: Archant

It was the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, author of Pygmalion, the story of which was the basis of the popular musical My Fair Lady, who once observed that “England and America are two countries divided by a common language”.     
When, in this country, we describe something as “homely”, we mean it as a compliment, that it’s something warm and comforting that reminds us of home. However, in the States, it’s a word used to describe something or someone unattractive or ugly. A jumper in America, isn’t a sweater, rather it’s a sleeveless dress that goes over a blouse.   
In the States, suspenders hold up pants, whilst in England, braces hold up trousers. When I go to the supermarket, I put my groceries in a trolley, which in America is an electric mode of passenger transportation that runs along metal tracks; and that’s something we call a tram.  
One word we Brits use frequently, that confuses and confounds many Americans is “Sorry”. 
They wonder why we keep apologising for things that aren’t our fault.   
According to the Debrett’s etiquette website, “For many British people, apologising is a default reaction to life’s little irritants. If someone barges into you, treads on your toes or spills your drink, it is considered quite normal for the victim to mutter ‘sorry’. This is clearly illogical, but for many British people it is an ingrained response”.   
A YouGov survey taken of over 1,000 British people a while back, found that the average Brit admitted to saying sorry around eight times a day, and that one in eight people apologise up to twenty times a day!   
The author Henry Hitchings has a particular interest in language & cultural history.  In his book entitled “Sorry! The English and Their Manners”, Hitchings writes, “The readiness of the English to apologise for something they haven’t done is remarkable, and it is matched by an unwillingness to apologise for what they have done.”   
As I sat and reflected on the second half of that sentence, trying to apply it my own life, I wondered how often I’d damaged my relationships with others through my refusal to admit my failings and apologise to someone for words I’d spoken out of turn or thoughtless actions that had left their harmful mark.   
In the New Testament, in the second half of Romans chapter 12, amongst the instructions and encouragements of how those who are part of a Christian community should behave towards one another, this simple but significant instruction is found in verse 18, “as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone”.   
In part, this surely means that rather than believing I am always in the right, I must be quick to recognise when I’ve gone wrong and be keen to make amends, apologising readily and genuinely, where necessary.   
A recent patron at a restaurant in York Beach, Maine, in the United States, did just that, according to a report in the local newspaper, the Portsmouth Herald.  
“Can you please give this $100, along with my apology, to the girl who was taking names to be seated for dinner last Monday evening”, wrote the anonymous, contrite customer. “I was very rude to her, and I normally have way more respect for people than I showed that day.  I’m embarrassed and will apologise to her in person the next time I’m in York.”   
Leadership guru and author John Maxwell likens the damage a refusal to say sorry can have on a relationship, to the impact rust left untreated has on a car: “Rust slowly corrodes metal and thus eats away at the frame of the vehicle, damaging its structural integrity.  When you’ve broken a friend’s trust, don’t let the relationship rust; take action immediately to repair and restore it.   
“Admit that what you did was wrong and say you are sorry. It may be painful for the moment, but it strengthens the relationship in the long run. Whenever possible, make restitution to those you have harmed. Say you’re sorry with your actions and not just your words. Remember, the greatest gift anyone can ever give you is not their time, energy, or effort, but their trust. So do everything in your power to deserve it and to preserve it.”