Sorry for “Sorry”

I don’t know if it’s because I’m from the Midwest or I just care a lot about how others are feeling, but I apologize. A lot. For reasons I don’t really need to apologize for. I seem to innately assume that I am in the wrong and will make up for it through tacking on a quick “sorry” to avoid conflict.

That isn’t to say that knowing when to truly apologize isn’t a crucial life skill. It takes a strong person to admit their faults, reconcile the differences, and seek compromise when necessary. I admire those who can step outside of their own pride and feelings of rightness for the sake of a relationship or situation.

However, while some might disagree with me on this part, I’ve always been someone who sees the overuse of words and phrases as a surefire way to lose their true value. When you constantly hear the same message over and over again, we become desensitized. Yes, this pertains to media’s portrayal of violence and scandal, but it occurs often in everyday life and conversation. For example, I’m not a huge fan of throwing around “I love you” all the time to every person I see. I exaggerate here, but especially for my family and significant other, I rarely say it. I say it in a friendship way just because it’s normalized, but for the very deep connections, I try to choose my words very carefully. Again, this is just me and doesn’t devalue what you say, but I know when someone uses the same things over and over to  me, it goes in one ear and out the other. I know when I say “I love you,” I really mean it.

Back to “sorry.” This is different since it’s more of a courteous gesture, a word to use to try and justify inadequate apologies. I definitely see a true apology requiring more than a five-letter word if it’s heartfelt. And shouldn’t have to feel the need to say it for things that are clearly not our fault, not in our control, or otherwise unworthy of apology. Examples include apologizing for being hurt by someone else’s offense, apologizing for being over-sensitive, apologizing when someone else bumps into you, and apologizing for apologizing. It’s not worth it.

Not surprisingly, women apologize much more often than men. Women even see their daily activities resulting in more faults than men, even if they’re doing the same things. While there’s an element of empathy more common in women, a means of being socially attuned to others’ feelings, but it can tie back a lot to gender inequality. That women feel the need to apologize for perhaps stepping out of their systemically assigned role of being inferior to men. Just compare a man and woman leader, how the same qualities are celebrated in men and are criticized in women for being direct or strong. So when women get lost in the need to over-apologize, we’re holding ourselves back. We self-destruct to fit into the gentle, timid feminine persona.

Again, I don’t see this as a conscious decision. Women don’t actively choose to be apologize for themselves when they don’t need to or apologize for men if they step out of line, the old-fashioned saying, “Boys will be boys.”  It’s habit. Not apologizing frequently can even take people off guard. We set different standards of behavior for men and women. No matter how subtle it may feel, it does make a difference in how we see each other.

So how can either gender combat the excessive “sorry’s”? A great option is thanking others instead. Expressing gratitude paints the insignificant situations in a more positive light. If you feel the need to apologize if you’re venting to a friend, say “Thank you for listening to me.” Want to apologize for not doing a task someone else picked up instead? “Thank you for doing that.” It seems really simple, but words are powerful.

Especially for the things you love and make you feel overwhelmed with passion, never feel the need to apologize. Even if people criticized you in the past for loving something or a certain quirk, unapologetically be yourself. There’s nothing better than to see someone’s face light up when they talk about their favorite things or celebrate their unique qualities. We shouldn’t shame the aspects of life that make it worth living.

In situations where you truly are in the wrong, know where to draw the line. The past is done and gone, and it takes up far too much energy to hold a grudge or constantly feel guilty and regret every little mistake you’ve made. We’re imperfect humans that always say and do the right things. We have to realize that there’s only so much an apology can do. Sometimes it requires putting your words into action, and sometimes it’s just accepting how things are and moving on. Life can be messy. Clean up where you can, but it’s okay to have a few stains left behind.

For women and everybody, sorry is too often a crutch. It’s a space filler, a way to politely ask for something without offending, to appear “soft” while making a demand. It falls in the same category as “I hate to ask” or “I know this is a stupid question” or another version of “No offense, but” or ending your statements with a question. Sorry is simply another way of downplaying our power, of softening what we do, to seem nice. Let’s not feel guilty for being bold and strong, for feeling powerful, for standing up for what we feel and know is right and for being proud of that. Anybody can be a leader, regardless of your sex or gender.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

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