I had a professor once who would say, “no need to apologize,” to me all the time because I would say “sorry,” too much. I didn’t even say it because I did something wrong or I was sorry, I would just say it…like a reflex. I think part of this comes from the fact that to apologize is polite and when you bump into someone or do something to make a person uncomfortable you apologize. But then, there is definitely a line we cross where we go from polite to simply apologizing too much. When apologizing becomes a reflex, each apology loses its weight. Now, for the purposes of avoiding criticism for telling people not to apologize, I would like to put a general disclaimer on this post that you should apologize when one is warranted. If you hurt someone, do something wrong, seriously mess up, an apology should occur. However, I think because some people feel like we’re supposed to apologize, or we apologize out of habit, true apologies are ruined. It’s like ‘boy who cried wolf,’ but we’re crying remorse when we actually feel nothing.
Anyway, due to societal norms, women, especially, often feel we should apologize for being who we are. We feel like we should apologize for coming on too strong or questioning someone else. We should apologize when we like something that is deemed “uncool” by the powers that be. We should apologize for saying, “I don’t like that current trend,” or “I think that’s wrong.” We lead with “sorry, but…” because the thought of offending someone is too much to bear. However, when sorry is used with the same frequency as “hi,” the ‘sorrys’ become less and less meaningful. R.M. Drake once said, “maybe one day we’ll finally learn to love ourselves and stop apologizing for the things that make us who we are.” I think sometimes “sorry” becomes a filler. We bump into someone in the coffee shop, we say “sorry” instead of “oh, excuse me.” It’s not necessarily our fault we bumped into someone, but here we are apologizing as if we were at fault. I’ve had someone hit me in the face accidentally, and I said, “Oh, sorry…” as if apologizing for being hit in the face. Talk about ridiculous.
With so many pressures that our society breeds, it’s only natural that we feel the need to apologize for our actions that others deem wrong. Maybe our actions are wrong, and in those moments we should be held accountable and apologize. However, there are too many times to count when we feel pressure to apologize, even when we’re not. Even now, with Harvey Weinstein’s career blowing up because brave women are shining a light on his abhorrent behavior, apologies seem insincere. We have Weinstein saying he’s “sick” and will “be better” one day. I’m not contesting that he’s sick, but I am contesting that he’s sorry because of the trauma and pain he’s caused to women. I feel he’s sorry because his career, marriage, etc. are dying a little more each day. If women hadn’t spoken out, his disgusting behavior likely would have continued because he wouldn’t feel the pressure to apologize. He should apologize, but he should mean the apology. On the same vein, Ben Affleck received a ton of flack for, finally, speaking out against Weinstein when Affleck himself had sexually assaulted celebrities and has yet to speak against his brother, who multiple women have claimed sexually harassed and assaulted them. The frequency with which we see pressured apologies makes us feel like “sorry” is the answer. If we say, “sorry,” and move on, all is right in the world. This is likely because it’s worked for many public figures who, after an apology, fade from the headlines and move on with their lives as quickly as the story broke.
I understand that apologizing for sexual assault and apologizing for bumping into someone at a coffee shop are not on equal footing, but I do think a quick, yet thought-out (mostly toward personal branding) apology from powerful individuals who are facing really big issues gives us a green light to be even more careless with our apologies in everyday life. We apologize with such frequency that we don’t realize, often, what we’re even apologizing for in the first place. When someone said, “that was rude,” and we respond, “sorry,” then move on it doesn’t solve anything. I think we should stop apologizing in some instances because the situation (a) doesn’t warrant an apology and (b) if we’re apologizing just to go through the motions of doing so, we shouldn’t apologize until we can mean it. If we can never mean it, maybe an apology shouldn’t come. In the case of Weinstein and Affleck, an apology is most certainly warranted, but not until both men understand what they’ve done, understand the pain they’ve caused, and are apologizing not because they feel they should, but because they are actually sorry for the pained they’ve caused.
In our everyday lives, we shouldn’t be apologizing for the things that make us…us. We shouldn’t apologize for liking a certain band or wearing a certain outfit or being a certain way. If we find ourselves apologizing all the time, perhaps we haven’t found our niche. I find myself constantly apologizing for being so sarcastic because some people think poking fun at myself and others is “rude”. However, I’ve also learned that I surround myself with people who appreciate sarcasm or are also sarcasm. I don’t need to apologize to those people because they understand this quirk that is part of my personality. If I joke with someone and they are offended, I do apologize because I didn’t mean anything malicious or mean-spirited by my joke. But I also make a mental note that the person and I may not be the best of friends.
What’re your views on apologizing?