It was the week before Christmas, and my mom was driving to an appointment out on Staten Island. Staten Island can be a very busy place anytime but considering that it was the week before Christmas, the busyness was multiplied. While she was stopped at a stoplight, she got rear-ended.
Mom is 77 years old, and was quite upset and startled by being hit. Once she realized she was ok, she stepped out of the car expecting to see a large amount of damage because the sound of the impact was so loud. Right away, even before she could get to the back of her car, the gentleman behind her put his hands up in a very authentic way and said “I’m so sorry. Are you ok?” This immediately calmed my mom’s nerves, and they were both happy to see that there was no damage to either car. There was no yelling or finger-pointing and no excuses. Just an “I’m sorry.”
As my mom told me the story, she was clearly still upset that it happened, and even questioned if the gentleman was on his phone, and how that could’ve happened. Yet the major point of the whole thing was that she was glad he said I’m sorry.
One of our philosophies where I work at Port Jervis High School in Port Jervis, New York is to admit it, fix it, and move on. When you say a genuine “I’m sorry” you are doing the first two, with two simple words. I’m sorry.
In the world we live in there are countless examples where people do not want to take accountability, own the mistakes or poor decisions they may have made. With a pure and meaningful “I’m sorry” what else could people say? Sure, some people will still argue or be mad, but when you acknowledge wrongdoings with authenticity and heart and say I’m sorry, most people can except that.
As school leaders, let’s remember this in our work with staff, students, and community members. I recently made a decision regarding an incident that required a student to be disciplined, and it may not have been enough. The situation probably warranted a stiffer penalty, yet for several factors, I lessened it. It might not have been the best choice and I acknowledged that to the parent who was upset with me. I told her that I was sorry and would do a better job next time. While she was still not happy with the result, I think she was happy that I acknowledged that I was sorry about the decision I made. As we are a few weeks into this new decade, reflect on the times and ways you could add “I’m sorry” into your toolbox. Hopefully, you won’t have to use it often, but when you do it is meaningful, and as my mom said after she was hit “I’m just glad he said I’m sorry.”
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”