This I Believe

Chris - Indianapolis, Indiana
Entered on June 12, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: respect
  • Podcasts

    Sign up for our free, weekly podcast of featured essays. You can download recent episodes individually, or subscribe to automatically receive each podcast. Learn more.

  • FAQ

    Frequently asked questions about the This I Believe project, educational opportunities and more...

  • Top Essays USB Drive

    This USB drive contains 100 of the top This I Believe audio broadcasts of the last ten years, plus some favorites from Edward R. Murrow's radio series of the 1950s. It's perfect for personal or classroom use! Click here to learn more.

I believe the two most powerful words in the world are “Okey” and “Dokey.” I learned this in the prison where I work. It’s a medium-security facility once famous for being the home of Mike Tyson.

At least once a week, I see a guy being led in handcuffs across the yard. Sometimes his face looks like it’s got a raw steak underneath and his hair is going every direction. I think: he doesn’t know the magic words.

Basically, people think other two word combinations (like “shut up” or, as Norman Mailer put it, “Fug you”) are more powerful. These words mean nothing. I live in a world where these words are used so much they’re just noise. When was the last time you heard someone stop talking after being told to shut up?

These words make people mad –but that doesn’t mean they’re powerful. To be powerful, they should do things for you, be magic words. “Shazam!” or “Open Sesame” would be powerful words if they actually worked. In any case, words should get you what you want. Even if you WANT to make people mad– really, no good can come from it. We all know that. Someday, somehow, angry people get revenge.

What I’ve learned in the prison is that there are going to be times when you get in trouble and times when you’re told to do things you don’t really want to do. There are going to be times when people get mad at you. The secret is: apologize. Say what angry people need to hear. Not many people can stay angry at someone who says, “Aw shucks, boss, I didn’t know. I’ll take care of it.”

Maybe in the worst case scenario, the angry person will say you should have known, and, maybe, that such-and-such is the consequence for you. Now maybe you won’t like this either. But you should just say, “Okey Dokey, boss. Sorry, boss.”

Nine times out of ten, saying these words will make your problem go away: no consequence. Just say you were sorry. You can work it out later. And, really, once this person is gone, you can go right back to doing what you were doing anyway. Just don’t yell back. To quote Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons: “You may be right, but so what?” If you raise your voice, you’ve chosen to get into a staring contest or a shoving match, and really, what’s the best that can come out of it?

What I’ve learned in prison is that very few of our fights are really in self-defense. Mostly they’re about pride –and fighting because our feelings are hurt is not really self-defense. What I’ve learned in prison: we’ve all got plenty to be sorry about. So go ahead and say it. Say “I’m sorry.” Say, “Okey dokey, boss.” Make someone happy. It’ll come back to you.