Two Phrases That Could Be Ruining Your Life

If I ask a hundred people what is the most overused phrase in the English language, I’d likely get a lot of repeat responses such as, “You only live once,” “I can’t even,” “Jus sayin’, “It is what it is…” and anything involving the word, “Literally,” and “Adulting.” Ugh. The burn-worthy list could go on, the length of this article. A random group of words get linked, like lemmings, we incorporate them into our vernacular and a coined phrase is planted, overstaying its welcome. While I cringe and groan at some of the phrases I consider most overused in our daily language, the ones that get to me more than all the others are, “I’m sorry,” and “I promise.” Wait. What. We’re taught to apologize. And, what’s so bad about making promises? Pull up a stool, kids. I’ll add 40 years to the age of my voice and tell you a little about life, as I see it. We all screw up. Imperfection kind of demands it, and being human demands imperfection. We don’t get a douchebag pass for behaving however selfishly we want under the auspice of “being imperfect.” Let’s clear that up, from the start. In fact, it’s all the more reason to try to do our utmost to be good humans, because, without our even trying, we make more than enough mistakes and poor choices, as it is. So, between sunrise and sunset each day, do your best, don’t harm anyone, (emotionally or otherwise) and give back, in some way, to humanity…because there’s a lot of us on this rock and if we’re all selfish, we’re not gonna have a good time. How, exactly, did, “I’m sorry,” and “I promise,” end up on my shit list? They both entail ACTION. If you aren’t prepared to take action when you make an apology, don’t apologize. An apology really begins AFTER the conversation with the other person is over. Now, you have carried away with you, an extension of those words implying you will change your behavior. Obviously, we apologize if we break someone’s borrowed item, we pay to replace it, and the apology is a one time thing. But, more often, “I’m sorry,” is uttered for the same thing, over and over and over. Because, you guessed it, the behavior didn’t CHANGE. The offender uses it to get back to some form of good graces, no true acknowledgement of the offense, no intention of making sure it never happens again, because, “I’m sorry,” absolves the character debt. What kind of selfish person wouldn’t accept an apology, after all? I know! I know! One, for whom, this has become a two worded lie. Infractions being on a continuum, we commensurately offer our regret based on the crime. Regardless if it’s a promise to take your wife on a date once a week and six weeks in a row, and you say from the couch, “I’m sorry,” she’s not going to divorce you, (probably) but she’s not going to believe you. Sincerity carries with it the integrity to outperform our previous slip-ups. When a lame apology becomes nothing more than the punctuation for shitty choices, save your breath. I don’t want to hear it. Neither does the person you keep trampling. When you change your ways, clean up your act and mean what you say, call me. Your whole hearted aim should be to apologize only ONE TIME. That’s it. The rest is silent work. It’s waking up the next day and sticking to your word that the same action won’t be repeated. Not for just a week, or a month, and you get a star on your chart…there’s no “offer expires” date…you made the decision to do a thing or not do a thing when you apologized. Live up to your word. Apologies are so ubiquitous we hardly tune in when we hear them or when we offer them. That’s how flippantly we handle the multitude of sorrys we dole out in a day, a week, a year. Seriously, don’t apologize when you screw up. Apologize when you can take on the responsibility of not reoffending, like clockwork. Without that key piece, an apology is merely to ease your guilt, not ease their pain. Selfish bastard. (or bitch, as the case may be) Stop it! No seamless segue to part two of this little rant, so I’ll just start screaming, “Shut up with all your promises.” “I promise,” some will be baffled to learn, also involves ACTION. You can promise to do or not to do something. But, by God, if you promise it, deliver. You know how many promises I make in a calendar year? I’m guessing three. I have a lot on my plate and if I promise you something, it’s going to get done. And, it’s going to get done right. I don’t want to have to stress us both out by not following through, so I am extremely reluctant to promise anyone anything. I WILL say, I’ll try to make it happen. And, when I try, it usually happens. This is more calendar and scheduling stuff…things that require a time commitment. But, on the deeper level, I’m talking about promises not to do things that hurt others. The words, “I promise,” are often followed with, “I won’t do it again.” Maybe it’s how you behave when you’re angry and sling hurtful words you’ll later regret. Maybe it’s a promise that you’ll get help for the wedge-causing action in your most intimate relationship. It can be to help more with the kids, to be emotionally available for someone going through a challenging time and they’ve chosen you to call. It might not be convenient. They may call you at work. Text them back and acknowledge their call. Tell them when you can give them your undivided attention, and then, make the call. If the words, “I promise,” fall out of your mouth, visualize time as a currency and open your wallet, because you just spent some. Are you prepared to do that? No? Put your wallet away and do the hard thing…say, “I’m not willing to do that.” You could always lie, or make the blow softer by saying you “wish you could.” I personally detest it when I hear that, too. If you wish you could, why don’t you? Sometimes, yes, there are valid reasons why a promise can’t be kept, due to circumstances out of the speaker’s control. That’s the rarer case. On the other hand, brutal honesty isn’t required (I’m sorry I can’t babysit your brats. They drive me crazy and the four year old always smells like beef broth.) While those things are true, they aren’t necessary to avoid promising to babysit. So, I think we can all navigate through the “time” side of promises.  It’s the character promises that really send you and the person you’re promising, into a spiral. I’m not talking about leaving your dishes in the sink when the dishwasher is empty and your partner is missing a patch of hair from fruitlessly begging you to take the extra six seconds and put them in the rack. I’m talking about conversations where, often, tears are involved. Hearts are hurt. Let downs are enormous and engulfing. The stuff that keeps us awake at night. In houses around the world, huts, adobes, thatched roofs, tents, igloos, tipis, ranchers and mansions…people are looking into the eyes of the one they love and promising to end a behavior that is driving them apart. These are the promises that, when not kept, create the fault lines that compromise the integrity of the entire relationship. You know it hurts your significant other when she cries and you walk out. (Yes, you masculine men who just gawked wondering if some men do this, there are some men who do this. And, to that same gawking, compassionate group, as a woman, we thank you. Truly. You’re the reason we learn to feel secure in our relationships. And, showing up is damn sexy.) It’s a pretty widely agreed upon notion that women are higher maintenance than men. Not as in, how long it takes to get showered, dressed and out the door. I can do that in 15 minutes. I don’t like to. Because, coffee. But I can. Women tend to be more expressive of their sensitivities and the need for acknowledgement in these areas is significant. Promising not to inflict pain by repeating a behavior is something we take seriously. Men, we know you have emotional needs, too. We sometimes have to drag it out of you, but a loving partner will go the extra mile to never leave you in a state of pain, if you’ve expressed that she has hurt you. If she doesn’t validate your feelings, offers nothing but excuses, makes no effort to build up the part of you she wounded and goes on to recommit the same offense every time she has a tantrum, it’s time to establish some overdue boundaries or little miss thing can find her next victim as soon as she packs up her Gucci bag. We will all fail and need forgiveness. This is a fact. This should be the exception, however, not the rule. (refer to exhibit A, above) When we make a promise that we continuously break, we are now not only offenders of said crime, we are LIARS. And, if we can’t be trusted to keep our word on something as important as a promise to refrain from willingly harming the person closest to us, why would they believe anything else out of our mouths? We’ve established we have very little conscience by the sheer act of being a verbally brutal jack ass. But, now we’re promising to stop that behavior. (Contestants:  on top of a broken promise you also get the consolation prize of an insincere apology!…cue crowd…) On the other hand, heroes are made by sincerely addressing their behavior and adjusting it to meet the extension of apologies. It shows you care and value another human’s feelings and you are not willing to jeopardize their mental and emotional well being. By contrast, having no intention of stopping the very thing you’ve promised to do/not do has now turned you into a the liar I mentioned. It gets dicey here. Why? Because the one making insincere apologies and breaking promises wonders why the overreaction when confronted about their failures. Our promises and apologies are the tiny saplings that, a hundred feet away, stands an oak tree to which it’s attached. It’s a big deal because, that oak tree? That’s your character. Is it looking healthy, strong and sturdy? Branches strong, outstretched and sheltering? Or, is it dying, leafless limbs littering the ground, roots exposed and visible, unsightly and scarred…These two things relay to people just how much we value them. Divorce courts and family reunions are full and lacking, respectively, tracing back to these two words. Promises and apologies. They create a domino effect, either positively or negatively. And, too often, we can’t keep up with the quickly dismantled mess. The simplest and truly, the only way, to manage the business of apologies and promises is to be the strong oak. Men and women, your mate deserves it. Your kids deserve it. Your parents, siblings, friends and even our dogs deserve it. (Don’t dare tell your canine you’ll go for a walk later and skimp out on him…) When you have behind you, a history of kept promises and sincere apologies, you have beside you, the little tribe you don’t want to lose for the world. And, in front of you, there’s another sunrise coming up to shine down on your outstretched branches. I promise that’s the tree everyone wants to be near. Peace, Warriors.

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