Stop Saying “I’m Sorry”

I live in New York City. There are something like 1.6 million people that live in the 23 square miles of Manhattan. That is an insane amount of people in a tiny space. New York is the only city I’ve ever been to that you can take up someone’s personal space, and they have to be ok with it, and they do so by ignoring you. People are “jerks” in this city because business moves fast here, and people have to move at the same speed if not faster. I get pushed and shoved and stepped on all the time, and no one ever apologizes. Ever. And I love it. Now, don’t get me wrong, I was raised by a good southern woman who told me to be polite at all times. However, polite and apologetic are not the same thing.

I am a woman of a lot of mass. I am tall and I take up space. Genetics has made me this way. As a teenager and a young adult, I was sorry that I took up too much space. I tried to find ways to be smaller. At the movie theater, I would shrink down, just in case the person behind couldn’t see. I still don’t put my chair back in airplanes because I inevitably get my knees slammed by the person reclining in front of me, and I don’t want to do that to the person behind me. There was a point in my life that I said I was sorry to people who bumped into me, or even to walls and inanimate objects. I used to say “I’m sorry” in almost every other sentence. I used to say “I’m sorry” so much that I started saying I’m sorry for saying I’m sorry so much. Are you getting the picture? I was overusing “I’m sorry.”

I’ve heard it said that the things that annoy us most are the things that we worked hardest to change within ourselves. I undervalued myself so much that I felt the need to ask forgiveness to lower life forms and inanimate objects. Enough was enough. I didn’t really mean what I was saying. And if I was, I needed to stop apologizing for taking up space. Everyone takes up space. That is what living is. I wasn’t living, I was being sorry.

I hate, loathe, despise and abominate the phrase: I’m sorry.

In America, people are innocent until proven guilty and even then, as long as we are sorry and promise not to do it again, we can usually get off without much of a punishment. It is easier to ask forgiveness than it is to ask permission. At least this is the common viewpoint—whether you realize it or not. We take from each other, we mistreat each other, we push each other’s buttons, and we walk all over each other to fulfill our best interest. We knowingly commit crimes against each other, and then we use two weak words to ask forgiveness. Once bestowed the forgiveness, we commit the same exact crime, sometimes with amped stakes, just because we can. We got away with it the last time with only a tiny bit of humiliation and groveling. Saying “I’m sorry” is easy. Actually apologizing is not.

I’m so tired of hearing “I’m sorry” because it is so worn-out and undervalued. It is a phrase used so often, especially by women that we don’t even hear ourselves when we say it. I went out to dinner a few months ago, with friends who have been together for over 10 years. She is a hard working woman, who supports his artistic career. She too is artistic. They love each other very much and treat each other as well and as equally as you do after 10 years of growing up together. At dinner, she said “I’m sorry” either to her husband or me twelve times. Yes, I counted. Actually, I drank each time she said it, and I’d had three glasses of wine by the end of dinner—not the best drinking game… And why did she keep saying it? She wasn’t late; she didn’t hurt anyone; she committed no crimes. I think the biggest crime she committed was cutting me off just as I was finishing a thought. She kept asking for forgiveness for things that were no big deal. She was being polite, especially for the time she kicked me, but really, NONE of those things really required an apology, and they certainly didn’t need forgiveness.

Being polite and actually doing something that you need to be sorry for are two different sports. A really good friend of mine is trying to make big changes in her life. She is a divorcee that moved to New York to pursue the arts, and she is working hard at both trusting men again and hopefully finding a thriving relationship with one special one, and also making her creativity pay her.  We have major texting discussions, or sit in one of our living rooms drinking wine, discussing life. I love this woman, she is one of my best friends, but I don’t always approve of her choices. She throws herself into different situations and then is sad about it and complains about the, mostly negative, outcomes afterwards. She sits and tells me that she is so very sorry, and she should have listened to me. Here is the thing, and this is important so I’m gonna put it italics: I don’t care what choices she makes, I just want her to live her life AND BE HAPPY ABOUT IT. (please go back and re-read that sentence… just the italics. Its ok, I’ll wait.) Ok. So here is the thing: do or don’t do, just don’t be sorry for it. If you keep doing the same thing, but not listening to either your inner voice or your friends, and you keep failing and being frustrated: CHANGE YOUR CHOICE. Please stop saying “I’m sorry.”

The thing about just throwing out “I’m sorry” is that it is easy to just move on and live your life. But as thriving humans, just saying “I’m sorry” doesn’t fix everything, and usually its only a temporary fix. You can say “I’m sorry” every day you do something wrong, and the thing is, I’m not going to believe you. Its just too easy. You’ll say the words, I’ll feel that I have to forgive you to make your life easier so we both can move past it and because it’s the polite thing, and then afterwards we will go back to living like we did before the crime was committed. And then tomorrow you’ll do the same thing. I don’t want you to be sorry. I know you are sorry that I’m mad at you. I want you to fix whatever it is and move on. I really want you to be happy. If the choice you make ends up making you happy then YAY! It might not be what I thought was best, but who friggin’ cares! As my mother says: “did you kill or hurt anyone? Did you kill or hurt yourself? No? Ok, great. Then it was a good choice.” Make your choice. Be an adult and live through it. Next time make a better choice if the outcome this time wasn’t what you wanted. If you didn’t hurt anyone, no need for an apology. (Yup, its really that simple).

Now, some situations DO call for a request for forgiveness. If you’re a person like I used to be that over used “I’m sorry” or if you’re trying to help someone else break the habit, use “I apologize” instead. Something about the word, the multiple syllables, the substitution, or maybe its because the word has the letter “z” in it, but its just a heavier word, and seems to offer something more substantial. Because of this, it means more when it is said. Stop saying “sorry” and use “apologize”. Apologize is four syllables. It takes a moment to say, and even a bigger moment to think of the word. If you’re really sorry for something “apologize.” And better yet, don’t be sorry, but instead FIX WHAT WAS WRONG. Or promise to fix it for next time—and here’s the kicker with this one—FOLLOW THROUGH. (I know. I’m tough.) Stop being sorry for being late—leave 15 minutes earlier. Don’t be sorry you forgot my birthday—offer to take me for drinks on Tuesday instead. Don’t be sorry that you once again overreacted to something I said—figure out what it is that sets you off, and either fix it yourself, or lets talk it out, I might need repair too!

When you overuse the word sorry, or just apologize for your actions, you are actually belittling yourself. You’re shrinking yourself down so I’ll see how lowly you are and forgive you because you couldn’t fix it. I rarely apologize. I make it up to the person; I fix my actions; I change future plans. Ok, so be honest… the last time you said “I’m sorry” could you have fixed it or changed it before an apology was necessary? Change your actions. Become better. Stop apologizing. Also when you over use the words, you’re abusing them. You’re making the value of actually being sorry for something, less. No one wants the value of ANYTHING to shrink. So only use “I’m sorry” or better yet “I apologize” when you really mean it. When it’s something you really need to ask forgiveness for. Don’t make yourself smaller for a mistake. Don’t make the other person feel bad because of that mistake. Fix it. Most of the time, you’ll be forgiven, especially if you prove that you’re going to make it better by changing or rearranging.

Clare

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7 thoughts on “Stop Saying “I’m Sorry”

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