Cheating on your wife is more than a mistake. A mistake is when you knock over someone else’s drink – Oops! When a man calls cheating a mistake, he is insinuating he accidentally got naked, fell on top of that naked woman, in a hotel room, after buying her drinks, and turning off his phone – NOPE!

Mistake face

It is a cop out to call a conscious choice like cheating on a spouse, a mistake. Here are are some other recent examples of conscious choices that are more than mistakes:

  • A college coach calling an escort service multiple times.
  • A politician who never pays taxes to the IRS over multiple years.
  • A bank that sets up credit card accounts in the name of unwilling clients.
  • A law school student that plagarizes a paper.

To categorize any of the above choices as a mistake diminishes the forethought involved by the individual or the institution.

When a Mistake is Not a Mistake

The examples above belong in another category. In each case, there were multiple choices made by the offending parties. There was an understanding that what they were doing was wrong. There was conscious planning. And, there were often conscious cover-ups as well.

Let’s look at the example of the law school student:

The law school student puts off working on her paper again and again. She chooses to do other work or to not work at all on multiple days over multiple weeks. Finally, she searches for a paper from a student who graduated the previous year. She makes minor changes to include replacing the original author’s name with her own and submits the paper.

Plagarizing the paper was not a mistake. She made a choice. In fact she made a series of choices along the way that confirm this was more than a mistake.

When a Mistake is a Mistake

Calling something a mistake implies a lack of planning or conscious choices. Mistakes happen all the time. Mistakes may be careless, but they are not malicious. Mistakes may violate a rule, but not on purpose. Mistakes may hurt someone, but not consciously.  Mistakes may cause damage, but it was accidental.

We all make mistakes.

When “I’m sorry.” is Not Enough

We have all made mistakes, and we have all made those choices that go beyond a mere mistake. The fallout from those choices is often ugly. What can we do?  Say “I’m sorry.”?

If you have ever said “I’m sorry” and seen that the other person is unsatisfied, it is probably because “I’m sorry.” works for mistakes but not for our poor choices.

When we make those conscious choices or series of choices that we know are wrong or could cause damage, try saying “Please, forgive me.”

When we say “Please forgive me.” we humble ourselves. We put the power in the hands of the other person. They have the control. We are submitting ourselves to them.

When we simply say “I’m sorry.” for something that is more than a mistake, we are maintaining control of the situation. The first word is “I”.

It makes it about how I feel about my poor choice and not about how they feel about it. When it is all about me and my feelings, I am being just as selfish as I was when I initially made those bad decisions!

The Bottom Line:

We all make mistakes. AND we all make bad choices that are selfish or self-centered and damaging to others. None of us are perfect.

We need to think through the way we categorize our screw-ups. When we make conscious choices, especially multiple choices, that lead us to breaking rules, confidences, or trust that takes the consequenses and the confession to a whole new level. 

We must realize the difference now and train ourselves and the people we lead at work and at home, about this difference.

If we do, we will still make and see others make mistakes that need an “I’m sorry.”  

But, more importantly we will see fewer conscious choices that require a “Please forgive me.”  Once you say, “Please forgive me.” and put your forgiveness in the hands of another person, you have a better understanding of the damage you have done, and the pain you have caused. 

Unless you are heartless, you will not want to go back there again. And, you will be another step closer to being the kind of person you were designed to be.


Why is “I’m sorry.” so easy to say but “Please forgive me.” so hard?