I have been an over-compulsive sorrier my whole life. Though I’m not sure when the words “I’m sorry” became entrenched in my vocabulary, I do know if there was a competition of who said “I’m sorry” the most, I’d win ... by the age of 10. Lately, I can’t help but notice this habit of over-apologizing and it makes me very sorry.
Don’t get me wrong, an aptly placed “I’m sorry” goes a long way in this rugged world. It can soothe misunderstandings, build trust and even ignite personal growth. Empathy is the key ingredient for these powerful apologies.
Whether “I’m sorry for your loss” or “I’m sorry I hurt you,” these words matter.
We all know the difference between a real apology and an abysmal disingenuous one. Who among us hasn’t given an insincere sorry or wasn’t the recipient of such nonsense?
Doesn’t everyone know a fake apology when they hear one. They suck. Seriously. A faux-sorry sucks the air out of the room and out of a relationship. Pro tip, if you’re saying I’m sorry to end a conversation, it’s not a real apology. Nor is saying, “I’m sorry you got upset.” Pretty much any apology with the word “you” in the sentence is one sorry sorry.
Then there are bazillions of mundane sorries. We’ll offer them to strangers or family. I don’t know about you, but I’ve said sorry for everything from the weather to things that happened when I wasn’t even in the room!
I say sorry in the supermarket when someone wants to get by. Or sorry my house isn’t clean. Or sorry I have a cold. The fact that it sounds pathetic is one thing, the bigger problem is that these sorries hold no purpose.
They evaporate as quickly as they’re said. Whether it’s “I’m sorry it’s raining” or “I’m sorry I’m in your way,” no one cares. I begin to wonder why aren’t we all saying something more meaningful?
There’s plenty of research that shows women apologize much more than men; partly because girls are socialized to people-please. All the more reason to challenge rampant apologizing. What are we women saying sorry for anyway — simply being?
On the other hand, I notice some yahoos have no acquaintance with the words “I’m sorry,” let alone the concept. I’d like to box up some of my gratuitous sorries and give them to these sorry-less people. For them, they could practice using the words. I’d go so far to recommend, don’t be stingy. Use them freely. Get used to the sound and feeling of “I’m sorry.” It might shock their loved ones into listening.
For me, I will challenge myself to a sorry-ectomy, cutting the word out of my life except for the profound reason of loss. But everyday sorries? Nope! They get the heave-ho. Whenever I feel a sorry begin to form in my gut or on my lips, I vow to take a breath and find other words. And if perchance I do want to apologize, there’s a million ways to say so without using the hackneyed “I’m sorry.”
I suspect the first gift of this undertaking will be presence. I’ll be at choice for what I want to say to another human being. Ah, but it’s the second gift I’m most excited about. What if, in place of a rote sorry, something else is said that actually means something and just maybe, now and then, evokes real connection?
Hell, I’m a writer, I can do this. There are oceans of things I could say to another. And if I mess up and accidentally apologize to you for no reason, I’m sorry.
Carole Vasta Folley is a Vermont award winning playwright and columnist. Contact her at carolevf.com.