If you're like me, you overuse the phrase “I’m sorry.” I apologize for everything, at least I used to. I apologized for not being available to work extra shifts, or for having to turn down an invite to a party. I even apologized to a wall for accidentally bumping into it.
That’s when I knew that the meaning and purpose of “I’m sorry” had been lost.
My daughter also overuses “I’m sorry.” She is a habitual user. She yells and whines “I’m sorry” constantly. The varying inflections she uses differentiate true remorse from annoyance and defiance. She drops more “I’m sorry” bombs in a single day than any person should need to use in a lifetime. Of course, my other daughter apologizes for nothing, so I suppose it’s a wash.
Recognizing my daughter’s incessant use of that ubiquitous phrase to escape punishment or express frustration started a conversation about when we should be saying “I’m sorry” and when we should not. To teach her the true purpose of the phrase, I created a mantra to help her remember: “I’m sorry means that I truly regret what I did or said. I will work hard to never do or say that thing again.”
Reciting this mantra forced me to acknowledge my misuse of “I’m sorry.” Why did I apologize for not being available for work or social dates? I did nothing wrong. Rather than feeling “sorry,” I should be grateful that my life is rich and full. That I can’t be there because I've allotted that time for something or someone else is a wonderful thing. Furthermore, why would I apologize to a wall when clearly it was in the wrong for being in my way? Plus, walls have no feelings, so there’s that.
I've heard and read that women apologize more than men. This, I believe, is true. Women who don’t soften their words, directives, or denials with an “I’m sorry” are called the “B” word, while men who use the term in the same way as women are considered weak. What a world.
Expressing gratitude for the things that happen outside of our control can be life-changing. Replacing “I’m sorry” with a heartfelt “Thank you” makes us feel and appear kinder, stronger, and happier. It makes the recipient feel appreciated and not guilty. (Yes, a wrongly-used “I’m sorry” can appear passive aggressive, making another feel responsible for our inexplicable regret.)
It's mind-boggling the things for which women apologize. I, for one, have had enough. I'm making a conscious effort to stop my random and inexplicable apologizing. When the weather on the day of the picnic I planned turns cold and soggy, I will not mumble my regrets, taking the blame for the barometric pressure. No sir, I’ll thank my guests for coming in spite of the rain as they huddle by a tiny charcoal grill for warmth and nibble on their soggy sandwiches.
When asking repeated questions of the conference speaker to clarify information, I won’t diminish my thirst for knowledge with a knee-jerk “I’m sorry” to my annoyed colleagues who just want to break for lunch. Nope, I’ll thank the speaker for her response, then I'll toss a follow-up question at her.
When I find myself sobbing in the middle of Starbucks as my kind friend listens to my woes with a slightly embarrassed look on her face, an apology is not needed. I’ll simply thank her for compassionate ear and the tissue she dug from the bottom of her bag, even if it was slightly used.
When a kind stranger opens the door to keep me from walking into it because I’m busy texting and walking, I’ll utter a red-faced “Thank you,” grateful for not needing to apologize to the door.
Through watching me express more gratitude and less remorse, maybe my girls will enter the adult world better equipped to eschew responsibility for all the parts of life that are out of their control. Maybe they will feel empowered by the “Thank you.” Maybe they will learn the importance of the correctly-used “I’m sorry.”
Not feeling the need to say “I’m sorry” for basic day-to-day happenings has actually generated a new happiness within me. It has mended my wavering self-respect. Being thankful, instead of remorseful, is a healthier way to live my life. Give it a try. The world could definitely do with more gratitude.