Momspace: Sorry…Not Sorry
By Andrea Moreau
It has become the social norm to say “sorry” for almost everything.
“Sorry,” when you accidently bump into someone.
“Sorry,” when you use the wrong word when speaking.
“Sorry,” as a reply when someone says they’re having a bad day.
“Sorry,” when you think you’ve interrupted someone.
There are probably a thousand other “sorrys” throughout the day when, in fact, you really aren’t that sorry. Are we really such a sorry society? Sorry, what I mean is…are we really such an APOLOGETIC society? I don’t think so. At least, I don’t think we mean to be.
My youngest says “I’m sorry” about 500 times a day, and for everything. I have had to tell her to stop saying it when in fact she knows she’s not really sorry, but means something else. I’ve told her to instead say what she really means. For her, “sorry” has replaced “excuse me,” “I didn’t mean to interrupt you,” “I will do that now,” and “I forgot.” Because I notice her saying she’s sorry so often, I began to pay attention to my own use of the word.
I realized I said “sorry” a lot, too, including at times that don’t call for an apology. I used it when I didn’t hear someone correctly. I used it when someone didn’t hear me correctly! I used when I thought I might be complaining too much to a friend, when in fact, she was genuinely interested in my thoughts and feelings. I used it a lot in a crowded store, instead of saying “excuse me.” I used it when I got the wrong order, and had to send it back. I was using “sorry” when other people should have been apologizing, but I didn’t want to feel like I was a nuisance in pointing out their mistakes! It was ridiculous…I was just apologizing for being myself!
Of course, being the researcher that I am, I went to the Internet. I discovered there are many articles written on the topic, as well as a lot of ongoing peer-reviewed research, especially in the areas of sociology and psychology. I discovered that the overuse of “sorry” can be cultural and regional. Japanese people apparently say “sorry” a great deal, and even bow when they’re saying it. Canadians think they say sorry a lot–it’s even in a book on how to act Canadian. People in the south say it because it has become a form of politeness, to the point it has become part of southern etiquette. Saying “sorry” in our everyday language is less about remorse, and more about people-pleasing. I found research to back up what I was afraid of, too — that women apologize much more than do men.
Going forward, I want my children to feel confident, unapologetic about who they are, polite, and not “people-pleasing” just to allay others’ anxiety.
Here is what my children and I decided about saying “sorry”:
- Think more about the words you use.
- Say what you mean, not what you think others want to hear.
- Do not apologize for others.
- Do not say “sorry” when you mean something else, like “excuse me.”
- Apologize when you have a true feeling of genuine remorse, when something you’ve said or done has truly offended or hurt someone.
- Do not apologize for being you, and being in the world. Be unapologetically you!
Andrea Moreau is a former elementary school librarian and teacher and lives in Pass Christian with her three children and husband. She is the author of the children’s book, “I Mustache You to Read with Me,” and she is currently working on her second book.