The Five Hardest Words to Say – Part 2

The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks. – Luke 6:45 (NRSV)

This week’s news about the governor of Virginia, a racist picture on his yearbook page, and his subsequent disclaimer that he once appeared in black face, raise the question once again about the consequences now for actions in the past.  This particular action by the Governor Northam was not a crime.  And even though it has been decades, at the time he did it, black face was recognized as a racist act.

I’ve been following the debate about whether Northam should resign or not.  Some say yes for the action itself, while others say no because it was so long ago and his subsequent actions seem to support that he is not racist.  I don’t know the answer, but I think Joe W. Dillard Jr., the president of the Norfolk branch of the NAACP might have the most relevant point:

“Don’t ask for forgiveness when it’s discovered,” said Mr. Dillard, 30. “Ask for forgiveness when you know that it’s wrong.”

Maybe the answer is different when it is about racism and #MeToo, but I think confessing our wrong-doing and accepting responsibility go a long way.  If I do something wrong and I’m sorry, and I change my actions as a result, should the wrong thing I did continue to have consequences many years into the future?  Again, the answer is probably different when it is a crime versus a bad decision.  For actions that aren’t a crime, I think the answer is different depending on when you ask forgiveness.

Integrity is not about the actions we take and things we say at the point someone is holding us accountable.  Integrity is about who we are and what we do as we hold ourselves accountable.

#Integrity isn't about the actions we take and things we say at the point someone is holding us accountable. Integrity is about who we are and what we do as we hold ourselves accountable. Click To Tweet

This reminded me of a post I wrote a few years about how hard it is to say, “I’m sorry.  I was wrong.”  What does it mean to hold ourselves accountable?  What are the consequences when we wait for others to do it for us?

As I sit in northern Wisconsin this morning, I am bombarded with weather forecasts (we do LOVE talking about the weather in Wisconsin).  I’m looking at the road conditions deciding when will be the best time to drive. The weather is what everyone is talking about right now.  The top news seems to be the snowpocalypse mess in Atlanta.  Us hearty northerners scoff at a measly 2-3 inches of snow, but we have the experience and equipment to know how to deal with it.  I was in Atlanta a few years ago in June and it was ridiculously HOT and HUMID.  While I was sweating bullets, the lovely ladies of Atlanta looked fresh in their dresses and cute summer outfits.  It’s all relative.  (BTW, I also spent a morning at the pool with Sting while on this trip, but that’s another story.)

In January 2011, Chicago experienced its own snowpocalypse.  My seminary was closed for three days (how awesome is it that seminary is closed for something called the snowpocalypse or snowmageddon?). Lake Shore Drive became a parking lot as people abandoned their cars to walk home or to other shelter.  Snowbirds (cars covered and plowed in by snow) sat on the streets for over a month.  I think it was too expensive for the city to unbury them in order to tow them.  Whoever hasn’t sinned should throw the first snowball.
Lakeshore Drive, Chicago


At least a day after the Chicago storm

I can’t imagine being stuck in my car for hours or having my children forced to sleep at school.  I am heartened by the compassion of many who didn’t close their stores to allow people shelter, invited strangers into their homes, or braved the conditions to help those were stranded.  You can check out the Facebook pages “Snowed Out Atlanta” and “The Heroes of Snowed in Atlanta 2014” to see more.  What has really grabbed me, though, is the blame game going on between city and state officials and the National Weather Service.  Out of the many words that are flying back and forth, there seem to be five that are the hardest to say: I was wrong.  I’m sorry.

Some say “I love you” are the hardest words to say, but I don’t think so.  We “love” pretty freely in our society.  We hate pretty easily as well.  But to say “I was wrong.  I’m sorry.” – we act like it will bring on the actual Armageddon if we utter these words. Sometimes we say them but immediately cancel them out with a “but.”  As in “I was wrong, BUT it was the National Weather Services’ fault.”  All we are actually doing is saying the other person was wrong.

I’m not sitting in judgment of the various people in charge in Georgia.  In part, I think the situation represents the blame culture we live in.  Ask my husband how many times I’ve said, “I was wrong.” in the 25 years we’ve known each other.   I might get out “You were right,” but don’t actually admit my own wrong-doing.  It’s usually my pride that keeps me from saying these words.  It’s also my fear.  If I’m wrong, will you respect or love me less?

It's usually my pride that keeps me from saying these words. It's also my fear. If I'm wrong, will you respect or love me less? #Iamsorry Click To Tweet

I was wrong.  I’m sorry.  We hold on to these words, unwilling to share them with others in order to protect ourselves. But what we really protect ourselves from are honest, vulnerable and accountable relationships.  We use them as them as the bricks and mortar to build walls around ourselves that keep us protected.  But they also keep us alone. 

“Let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no.  Anything more than this comes from the evil one.” – Matthew 5:37 (CEB)

What we say should be truth, and we shouldn't need to qualify it with anything else. #Iamsorry Click To Tweet

Jesus was talking here about oaths, but I think it applies to saying I’m sorry.  I think Jesus was saying we should be honest about ourselves and with one another.  What we say should be truth, and we shouldn’t need to qualify it with anything else.  I understand the mayor of Atlanta is afraid he will lose his job if he admits fault for what happened. It’s not his fault it snowed in Atlanta.  It’s not his fault that the city is just not equipped for this type of weather conditions.​  But it is his responsibility to make decisions – and sometimes we make the wrong ones.  And when we do, we should be able to admit it. If we don’t, I’m not sure how we learn from our mistakes.

The mayor may lose his job; I may lose your respect.  But at least the mistake isn’t waste and my integrity isn’t compromised – and neither is our relationship.

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