I was working on the train the other day when there were a couple of small malfunctions. It was a hot and steamy day in North Carolina and the drink machine went out of service in my car. My co-workers quickly got on the problem and worked to correct it. In the meantime, I explained the situation to my customers and promised a quick resolve. Out of my line of sight and barely audible I heard someone utter that saying sorry was a sign of weakness. I thought nothing of the comment at the time as I scrambled to catch up on my schedule of tasks that was severely behind.
As I sat alone later that night the comment from earlier in the day flooded me. I had been raised to value manners and to be respectful. Admittedly there have been times in my life where I may not have followed that path but those core values were always in my heart. In my older age, I see their value and strongly believe in the absolute importance of good manners.
Please, thank you, and you are welcome are all phrases I say often and with meaning. Not meaning them would be empty and fake. When I speak these words, no matter how often, I do mean them. Saying that I am sorry is another thing I say, probably too much, but always heartfelt. When I apologized that day on the train, even though that particular issue was not of my doing, I still felt bad for the inconvenience and the sentiment, therefore, was real.
Was I being weak when I was polite? Did I feel vulnerable as I spoke the apology? I guess I felt a little out of control because of the situation but I doubted I felt weak. Feeling weak is basically relative, in my estimation. Much of my life has been spent feeling inferior and, yes, weak. The older I get the more strength and resolve I feel because I know who I am and what I believe as my truth.
Our society today is all about looking out for Number One, for climbing to the top of the heap and not caring who you walk over to get there. I do not believe in those societal concepts. I still believe that a civilized society, hence the word civil, is a polite one and one that cares for fellow man. I see people look at me with pity in their eyes like I am a wounded baby deer or some other small woodland creature. But my strength lies under the surface and can be utilized when necessary. I once was weak but now am strong because I understand my convictions and values. When those things were foggy to me, I was indeed weak but no longer.
Then I became sad when I realized that their are a lot of people who believe sorry is actually a sign of weakness. I am sad for them because that way of thinking, at least for me, would leave me feeling empty. One of my favorite songwriters, Bob Seger, sings a song about a “Beautiful Loser”. He is polite, is the perfect guest and never worries about being second best. I relate to the guy in the song. I don’t need to be Number One. I don’t need all the attention the first fellow in line gets. Does that make me weak? No, I think it makes me strong because I rely on my self worth and life experiences to create my strength. If others cannot see that fact there is nothing I can do about it. It is their perception not mine.
I am more determined than ever to be as polite as I can be. There is absolutely nothing wrong with saying you are sorry about a situation and meaning it. So thank you for listening and I’m sorry if you do not agree but this is who I am and I will stand tall, albeit quietly. I harken back to a gentler time when people were courteous to each other and looked out for one another. For that I will not apologize.