“Sorry, not sorry,” – The Watering Down of Apologies

My grandmother was one of my favorite people in the world.  She was a sweet woman with an intuitive sense and an appreciation for the little things in life – butterflies, birds, gumdrops, sugar cookies, and pies.  She could make a mean lemon meringue pie, but one thing I always remember about her pies was not only their deliciousness, but the apology that came along with each one, as if it was the final touch on her culinary masterpiece.  “I’m sorry, the meringue just wasn’t quite right this time,” or “the lemon curd is too thin,” or “the crust is too soggy.”  I’m still not sure if she apologized in advance because she actually felt those things about each pie, or if she was overly critical of herself, or if she was trying not to seem too proud.  Maybe all of those things and more.  In any case, the apologies were misplaced and ill-used.  I always ate every scrumptious bite of her pies.

The words, “I’m sorry,” have become a watered down pathetic excuse for an apology in our society.  The new colloquialism, “Sorry, not sorry,” has even acknowledged the loss of meaning in the common, “I’m sorry,” by blatantly pointing out that the speaker that uses “I’m sorry,” typically isn’t very sorry at all.  Variations on the phrase also even proudly ring false such as, “My bad,” or “Whoops.”  I guess the questions that are rattling around in my brain are, Why make any apology at all?  Why do we apologize for trivial mistakes/inconveniences?  Why should “Sorry” be the word we use when we do something wrong and the word we use when we are trying to express empathy for someone else’s situation?

We teach our children to “Say you’re sorry,” without driving home to them why they should feel sorry and what they should do differently.  It’s like a shrug of the shoulders if you don’t really care what people think, and a way to head off an argument if you care too much. “Sorry,” has become as contagious as a sneeze, and the more you hear it around you, the more you say it.

I’ve noticed my 10-year-old daughter defaulting to, “I’m sorry,” when she makes a mistake, no matter how small, or if she is trying to show empathy.  My husband does it too.  And I know I do it.  It’s a filler word for when you don’t know what else to say.  I wonder if we could try to say something more meaningful to one another instead.  It’s a laziness of speech and thought that keeps bringing us back to that default apology.  And even if you say, “I apologize,” that seems too formal and ridiculous as well.  Perhaps apologies should all be replaced with explanations, positive phrases about how you will try to do things differently, or simply nothing at all.  Any of those would seem more meaningful than “I’m sorry.”

I also worry about young women who seem to apologize for everything…even when they haven’t done anything wrong.  “I’m sorry for saying this, but maybe we could look at another option instead of the one you presented?”  In business especially, I saw myself and other female colleagues taking a demure, apologetic tone whenever they wanted to present something different from the status quo.  Why should we be sorry for having different ideas?

What started my train of thought on this topic was actually witnessing this learned behavior of apologizing for nothing from a team of 9-11 year old female volleyball players.  Every time the ball went anywhere except directly to another player, the girls would chime in with their sing-song, “Sorry!”  It drove me crazy!  Why are you sorry?  You’re trying to do it correctly, aren’t you?  You aren’t trying to send the ball in another direction, so why should you be sorry?  Especially for women, if you’re not doing something perfectly, or you feel you’re inconveniencing someone else, we use “I’m sorry,” to soften our position.  It’s ludicrous.

So, I’m making a concerted effort from here to eliminate all the unnecessary “I’m Sorry’s” that are building on my tongue as filler for actual meaningful understanding and explanation to my fellow humans.  I’m hopeful that I can at least reduce the use of this word in my house.  I don’t want my children to grow up thinking they have to be sorry for not being perfect, or that a quick “I’m sorry,” can act as a Bandaid for a situation that needs more serious resolution.  If you’re really sorry, be sorry.  Change your behavior.  Do something nice for someone.  Ask for help.  Offer help.  Ask intelligent questions to learn more about other people.  And please, let’s stop defaulting to “I’m sorry.”

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