Apologize Early and Often

May 3, 2005    By: Geoff J @ 11:22 pm   Category: Life

Warning: Navel gazing to follow…

In my life I have discovered that the words “I’m sorry” are among the most useful in my vocabulary. I am the type that needs utilize this phrase often. The good news for those of you who have needed it from me is that I mean it when I say it.

Some time back Ebenezer put up a great post on online caricatures over at a bird’s eye view. I was afraid to comment because I knew that my online caricature at the time was better than my real self. I had been humbled by life and that humbling had peeled away a lot of my less desirable character flaws. I wanted to bask in the flattering light while I could. The truth is that I may be a better, gentler, nicer, more level-headed person online than I am in real-time life.

Here is my problem – honesty. Or perhaps a more apt description might be that I lack natural gentleness in communication. I am not particularly good at keeping my honest opinions to myself. I am not always as diplomatic or as patient as I could be. Call it frankness, directness, bluntness if you want, but the truth is that I have always been somewhat of a bull in a china shop. So why is the bloggernacle good for someone like me? Because writing responses gives me time to think and measure my words before I blurt them out. An advantage I have is that I really do love people. I really do want people to be happy, successful, righteous, etc. So when I have time to think about what I’m saying it allows me to consider how the way I’m saying might affect their reaction.

Now don’t get me wrong – I am quite proud (even arrogant) about some aspects of my natural frankness. I’m the kid who points out the emperor has no clothes more often than not. But that tale doesn’t mention that the emperor probably had that kid drawn and quartered for his honesty. Bluntness can be a two edged sword. It can make you friends and it can make you enemies. It helped me rise to the top of some businesses I worked for, but as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, my petulant honestly has lost me at least one job.

Ok, I’ll brag about that here too: That happened early in my career when boss of mine (who I was less than impressed with) gave me a scathing annual review after coming in the last six weeks of that year to be my supervisor. I of course gave her an unsolicited and impromptu scathing review in return. Hers made me irritated and mine made her cry. Strangely, I was among the first round of layoffs two months later. (It was totally worth it though).

So as you see, I suppose am torn here… I think my frankness is problematic at times but I remain a bit smug about this characteristic in myself too. The world has need of diplomats and bulldogs. I am naturally a bulldog but I have diligently worked at being a diplomat when needed. I really don’t like offending people, but I don’t mind offering some tough love either. I just recognize that offending someone is not a sin in itself. Christ was so offensive to people that they killed him for it. So when the message is accurate I rarely apologize for it. I do however find myself needing to apologize for my delivery quite often.

No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge… (D&C 121:41-42 italics mine)

So I feel ok about most of this list… (persuasion) I try to persuade, (long-suffering) I can keep at it, (meekness) I’m teachable, (love unfeigned) I believe I really do have charity for others, (kindness) I have kind intentions, (pure knowledge) I try to have my facts right… But the one that still kills me is Gentleness. I’m much gentler now that I used to be and sadly I still have a long way to go.

So there you have my half-confession, half-brag… Help me out here. What do you think of my condition? How badly do I need to repent? I’m not quite sure still so in the meantime it looks like a sincere apology will remain a standard part of my repertoire.


  1. Geoff: I have the same “bull in the china shop” personality. Sometimes I fear it is worse online because I (usually) don’t say something unless I have something to say (and when that happens…).

    For what it’s worth, I’ve never thought you’ve been out of line. So, I guess I’d say that it’s not that bad. Frankly, I feel it’s far worse to be a pushover.

    Comment by Pris — May 4, 2005 @ 8:42 am

  2. That story of you at work sounds a lot like George Costanza if you ask me. (Very good thing in my opinion.)

    When it comes to you, I’ve never seen you say anything even bordering on inappropriate. I can tell when I have taxed your patience a bit, and I can tell when you are thinking far worse things than you are probably saying, but all in all I’d say you a good people. In my experience people who are more willing to speculate a bit (you certainly qualify) tend to be less dogmatic.

    Comment by Jeffrey Giliam — May 4, 2005 @ 9:35 am

  3. Geoff,
    I think one of the reasons my comment/reading ratio is so wide is because my first reaction is usually a “bull in a chinashop” response. So I type it out, then I read it over and decide it’s too much, then I try to start over and at that point I’ve run out of time and have to get back to work (or whatever), so I don’t leave a comment at all.

    And yes, you need to apologize to me because you offend me.

    Comment by Rusty — May 4, 2005 @ 12:55 pm

  4. This sort of reminds me of the problem with the golden rule as normally stated: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you”. That leaves a lot of room for incorrect aplication in cases like this I think. What is I want everyone to be brutally honest with me so I then act brutally honest with others? It just doesn’t work. If we ammend the golden rule to say “Do unto others as they want to done unto” it is better. The only problem there is that it is harder to justify tough love (a la Jesus or the prophets crying repentance).

    I’m glad I haven’t offended too many of you yet. I think this idea of how to appropriately communicate with each other is interesting. Despite intentions, delivery is often the most important part (even in writing).

    Pris: You bring up the excellent point that this is not a gender-specific problem. I think it takes a lot less for a woman to be considered overly frank in our society. I can imagine it wouldn’t take too much to get that sort of label in Relief Society or any other women-only group.

    Jeff: The only troubles you and I have faced in exchanges is misunderstanding one another at times. I love the insights you provide so any extra work to understand your point of view is worth it.

    Rusty: I’m with you on the deleted comments thing. That saves a lot of headaches. BTW — I already apologized to you and you probably need it less than most people I know anyway…

    Comment by Geoff Johnston — May 4, 2005 @ 1:44 pm

  5. Geoff, you’re right with the analysis, but the fact is, despite uni-gender of my moniker, I am male.

    Comment by Pris — May 5, 2005 @ 8:35 am

  6. Ha! Well I feel like a heel. I guess you probably get that as often as Kim on the Web, huh? Thanks for giving us a fine example of my constant need to sincerely apologize. So is Pris short for something else like a last name or a nickname or something? I’ve only known Priscilla’s that went by that name before.

    Comment by Geoff Johnston — May 5, 2005 @ 8:50 am

  7. […] saying. I am calling you and all of us out. (But don’t worry, I mean it all in the best possible way.) I am saying that nothing short of regular and consistent personal revelation would be acceptabl […]

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  8. Yes, “Pris” is a shortened last name, pronounced with as “Priz.” I use it because most of my friends call me by that anyway–so it provides for semi-, but not complete anonymity. And I get it more often than you might imagine–my given first name, like Kim’s, is also gender-neutral.

    Comment by Pris — May 6, 2005 @ 7:52 am

  9. Too often apologies are mere excusese to do it again. The statement “I am sorry” always makes me want to ask: “A sorry what?” I can ask forgiveness and seek your accepting trust to be open to the possibility that led to the rift or causes pain I won’t do again. I ask for openness to this possibility and simply for the opportunity to show that I am worthy of such trust. I don’t say that I am sorry, because talk is cheap. Let me re-earn your trust. Let me show that I am truly contrite. Never let me seek an excuse by saying, “I am soooo sorry.”

    Comment by Blake — May 8, 2005 @ 11:05 am

  10. Hmmm. Good point Blake. Apologies can often be used in lieu of changing (aka repentance). That could make apologizing a bad thing in some cases. But in the example I use in the post, do you think apologies are useful? Having met you I suspect we have some of the same bull in a china shop characteristics. As you know, and as I posted here, that can be a very good thing in life but it often leads to communication errors and offenses. I’m sure you have offended your share of people in your day just like I have. So how do you handle that? When your heart is in the right place but your true and charitable intentions get lost in the delivery… Do you apologize for the communication failure (at least the delivery part)?

    I could understand if you didn’t and I think it could be justified. Jesus didn’t go around apologizing for his delivery and he offended most people. But on the other hand, it seems that an apology for miscommunication can help a charitable person keep the dialogue open for future communications. How many chances to help someone would be lost if we burn a bridge with them at first with too much tough love? It seems that the practical end goal of the helping our fellow beings requires mending fences with apologies for offenses given with too much frank talk too early. Don’t you find it useful to sometimes apologize for the pain caused by the delivery even when you would not apologize for the actual message?

    Comment by Geoff Johnston — May 8, 2005 @ 12:34 pm