I feel like, growing up, learning to say “I’m sorry” was an obstacle for all kids. It definitely was for me. I remember getting sent to the principles office for LITERALLY throwing rocks at 4 boys on the playground. In my defense, they were being super rude and I didn’t have the brain capacity to reason with them intelligently. I was six and I just “couldn’t even”. Even then, I found those obnoxious boys later that day and said that I was sorry and I meant it. I was aware of the discomfort of it. Humbling yourself and admitting guilt is human emotion we had to purposefully allow ourselves to accept and feel. You’re taught very young to apologize for causing harm or being inconsiderate. When you hit someone, stole something, had a tantrum, hurt someones feelings. That “I’m sorry” means something. It’s heavy with intent and purpose. It’s still hard for me to say that kind of “I’m sorry”.
That doesn’t stop me from saying “I’m sorry” at least 20 times a day.
It’s scary to think that the majority of the times you hear “sorry”, they don’t mean a thing. They carry almost no weight. Let me clarify: the intention is there, but there is no meaning to “I’m sorry” like this. I know females get a lot of flack for this. It’s not a girl thing, but for us maybe its just a stronger reflex. But (the collective) we all do it. Because it’s so uncomfortable to say when you really mean it, maybe we’ve softened the blow of it by overusing it. The “sorry” you say when you’ve sneezed too loud, corrected someone, stood up for yourself, put yourself first, asked for help. It’s even become part of our vernacular to, when perplexed, apologize (“I’m sorry, WHAT??”). Are we really apologizing, or is it a placeholder? I like to call this a “soft sorry”. Is “I’m sorry” the new “um”? If the phrase has evolved, why? How did we get here? How do we get it back?
I’m not reinventing the wheel here, I’m not the first person to talk about this. “apologize less” has to be on everyones New Years Resolution list somewhere between “workout more” and “save up money”- but here we are.
In the same vein, I’m very intrigued by the internal ramifications of saying “I’m sorry”. I feel like it’s obligatory to say sometimes, and then I’m convincing myself that I should actually be sorry for something that I’m not. I’m expected to say it and everyone’s watching, like your mom sharply nudging you to hug that weird family member that you really don’t want to hug. For example, I’ll correct someone on something, and lead it by saying, “I’m sorry, I’m so obnoxious- but…”. How did I apologize and shoot myself down in one sentence for something completely legitimate? Why did I even say that? The act of saying sorry puts a bit of guilt on me because thats what saying sorry IS. When I don’t mean it, it makes me submissive when I have something valid to say. Or had to sneeze. Or want to prove a point. Or need to defend myself. I’ll catch myself every time- but I still say it, and I’m sure it won’t completely stop. And it sounds terrible, but sometimes I’ve pulled an, “you know what, I’m not sorry.” And it sounds a little rough on your tongue at first, but then it starts to feel good. And has weight.
To take it further, consider the external implications of “I am Sorry”- whether you mean it or not. To the person you’re talking to, I’d argue that you’re giving them a little bit of power (leverage at the very least), you’re humbling yourself. You’re asking for their forgiveness, and you’re letting them know that you see yourself as guilty here. I’ve stopped people in the middle of a soft-sorry. They usually realize that they aren’t truly sorry, and take it back. which is fair. I think its really important to catch these soft sorry’s before they spread. It’s debilitating to our language. For example, let’s say you want to defend yourself in an argument. You interject and you have things to say. Too many times I’ve seen it play out. You’d start with “I’m sorry, but I’ve had enough of this” or “I’m sorry, what did you say???”. But look, you aren’t sorry. You’ve had enough. You want to address it. But before you even get to speak, you’ve said this phrase that exists solely to ask for forgiveness for harm that you’ve caused. To be blunt, if you’re trying to win an argument– don’t start by apologizing. Whether it’s a fight or not, you’re structuring your entire conversation or interaction on an apology. Why is this a thing? You might think it makes you look lady like or charming, I really don’t think it does. Don’t get me started on those who are infamous for the “I’m sorry, but (insert insult here)”. your weak “I’m sorry” doesn’t buffer you from looking like an asshole. Sometimes “I’m sorry” can look lazy because its used for lack of a more fitting phrase. Replace your “I’m sorry” with something more constructive. Something with more of a backbone.
I truly think that the extinction of the “soft sorry” will strengthen our vocabulary and our confidence in the way we communicate.
Sometimes I struggle to realize when I should be apologizing and when I shouldn’t. I recognized that I’m predisposed to say it when it’s not necessary, and I want that to change. When in doubt, roll your eyeballs behind your head, look at your brain, and ask yourself if you’re really sorry. If you’re saying it because you feel awkward, or like you’re an inconvenience, or to fill an awkward silence, then focus on how not sorry you are about the situation. If the situation at hand makes you feel guilty and you feel like you owe someone an honest apology, look them in the eyes and say it.
I repeat: if you don’t truly feel sorry, then keep your pie hole shut or say something else.
At the very least, I just really want you to be sorry less.