Stemming The I’m Sorry Tide

2011 January 21

Chicago got it wrong; it isn’t hard to say I’m sorry, it’s easy, too easy even. We’re now conditioned to apologize by instinct. Sorry, wrong number. Oops, sorry for stepping on your foot, for not hitting the elevator button in time, for loitering in the cereal aisle when you were trying to reach a box of Cocoa Puffs. Reflexive blurts of no more weight or significance than asking, “How’s it going?” and not stopping long enough to hear the answer (because you’re not even expecting one). You get the picture. Conversations sans consequence, annoying in their obsequiousness.

But what about a sincere sorry? How often have you received a genuine apology for a major league hurt? If you’re like me, it’s a very rare occurrence. Sorry for being late/for canceling that meeting/for shrinking your sweater in the dryer. Those don’t count. What about sorry for bullying you and making your life hell in ninth grade? For cheating on you with your roommate? For not calling for three weeks after your dad died because I didn’t know what to say? These are the kind of apologies that count and that we rarely receive. It’s much easier to apologize for violating social niceties than for violating someone’s trust in you. It’s uncomfortable to admit that your behavior, your decisions, you yourself mattered enough in someone else’s scheme of things to cause that kind of hurt, to wield that kind of power. Much easier to assume that they got over it, it wasn’t such a big deal, that’s life. Whatever lets you sleep at night, I suppose.

It’s about time we reversed our apology M.O., IMO. Save your sorry (and your breath) for stuff that matters and change the petty behavior (lateness, sarcasm, an inability to read fabric labels when doing laundry) that keeps you offering reflexive apologies. Or better yet, skip the sorry entirely and simply start making the necessary amends to fix your big ticket missteps. Instead of stewing over the words to use, whether the statute of limitations has expired on breaking the shamed silence or what reaction you’ll receive, do what you’ve always known needs to be done to settle your emotional accounts.

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