That word makes me cringe.
Because it’s said too often. And it’s not said as often as it should be.
Women and girls are socially conditioned to say “sorry” more than is prudent. If you haven’t already noticed this phenomenon, start listening for it. If you hear an equal number of men and women apologizing for taking up time and space or for something that isn’t their fault, tell me. I’d love to be proven wrong.
So often I hear people say: “sorry” for taking up time or space in the world that is there’s to take up. I hear people apologize all the time in these ways:
- “Sorry, I have a question…
- “Sorry, but I don’t understand…”
- [When trying to move around people blocking a walkway]: “Sorry”.
- [Person A holds a door open for Person B. Person B passes through the door and says]: “Sorry”.
To say “sorry” in these situations to me is to say: “I am wasting your time and getting in your way. I have no right to ask for clarification and no right to share space with you.” There’s a lot of guilt loaded into a “sorry” in those scenarios.
But there are times when sorry is appropriate and necessary. Here are some good situations to say: “sorry”:
- You accidentally caused injury to a person.
- You accidentally damaged someone’s property.
- You did or said something that was out of integrity for you and you wish to take responsibility for your actions and words.
- You’re in customer service and you’ve been trained to empathize on behalf of the company by saying: “I’m sorry to hear that you’re having trouble with [insert problem here].”
The phrases above share is a common thread of: “I did wrong. What I (or my company) said or did is unacceptable or disrespectful. I take responsibility for my actions.”
This week, I apologized to someone I love for acting and communicating in a way that was not at all how I wanted to be treated. I recognized what I did and I took time later to sit down and say: “I spoke to you in a way that was really out of integrity for me. I’m sorry for doing that. I’ll do my best not to do that in the future.”
This is a time when “sorry” was appropriate and prudent. It felt good to say it. That’s another litmus test for “sorry”; if it feels good to say it, then it’s probably the right time. If you feel like you’re cowering and saying “sorry” for reasons that you can’t explain, then perhaps a different word would be better next time.
More often than not, I hear people say “sorry” when a perfectly good “excuse me” would be a more appropriate substitute and more truthful to what’s happening.
Here’s my criteria for when to say: “Excuse me” instead of “Sorry”:
- You accidentally bump into someone.
- You and another person nearly collide.
- You’re trying to get through a crowd in an open space.
- You want to get someone’s attention politely.
The phrases above share is a common thread of: “We were both moving in common space and we almost hit each other.” Or: “I would like your attention and I’m asking for it politely.” Or: “I need to move around you and your friends, but I can’t because you’re blocking my way.”
“Excuse me” gets used early and often in my world. In the grocery store aisles where I’m playing cart jockey with another shopper. In the crowded hallways where I work. I try to use “excuse me” way more often than “sorry”. More often than not, it communicates what I want to say: a verbal acknowledgment between two people that we’re about to collide, I need through, or I would like someone’s attention.
This might seem like a nitpicky language thing, but I believe that words matter and how we represent ourselves in the world as people tells the others around us: “I have respect for myself. I take responsibility for my actions.”
On the flip side of gratuitous “I’m sorry” usage, there’s a whole lotta lack of responsibility ownership in the world. I can think of hundreds of examples in my life and in the world where people could apologize and take ownership and I’m sure you can too. That’s a post for another day.
So beauties, I ask you to not apologize for taking up time and space. You’re a human being with full rights and access to your physical existence and right to understand things.
Do you see what I see in the world with women apologizing in way larger numbers than men? Do you struggle with saying I’m sorry? I certainly did for a while. I’d love to hear about your journey with apologies.
Breathe and believe, beauties.