I am one of those people who apologize all the time, usually for bogus reasons. I’ve sorted my thousands of apologies into four categories:
1. The “I’m Sorry for Existing” Apology. I apologize for taking up any kind of space. When I’m trying to get to my window seat on a plane, I apologize profusely. When I need to get by someone, I don’t say “Excuse me” I say, “I’m sorry.”
2. The “I’m Sorry for Having an Opinion” Apology. If I’m worried that my take on something might even slightly offend someone, I will preemptively apologize and then qualify my statement to death. I will apologize for “sounding too intense” even though I’m probably constitutionally incapable of sounding too intense. This drives my husband crazy. “Anna, JUST SAY WHAT YOU WANT TO SAY.” I’m working on it. For examples of what this sounds like, check out this great article of historical pronouncements rewritten like they were said by a woman in a meeting. Here’s Moses:
“Let my people go.”
Woman in a Meeting: “Pharaoh, listen, I totally hear where you’re coming from on this. I totally do. And I don’t want to butt in if you’ve come to a decision here, but, just, I have to say, would you consider that an argument for maybe releasing these people could conceivably have merit? Or is that already off the table?”
3. The “I’m Sorry that You Owe Me an Apology” Apology. This is where someone treats me poorly but I apologize. I apologize as a sort of hint to the other person so they will realize that they need to say sorry. Someone bumps into me on public transit, and I say, “Oh, I’m sorry!” Or a waiter messes up my order, and I apologize when I ask for it to be fixed (if I can work up the nerve to do so). These apologies are very ineffective, and also kind of jerkish/passive-aggressive.I didn’t even realize I did this until I read this essay. Crosby explains that these apologies waste everyone’s time: “It’s not what we’re saying that’s the problem, it’s what we’re not saying. The sorrys are taking up airtime that should be used for making logical, declarative statements, expressing opinions and relaying accurate impressions of what we want."
4. The “I’m Sorry I Actually Wronged You” Apology. This one of course is legitimate. I usually appropriately apologize to my husband for being snappy or inconsiderate. I’m pretty quick to apologize when I am in the wrong, seeing as how I have all this practice at offering illegitimate apologies all the time.
I’ve been working on this for a while, but this week I am going to make a concerted effort. NO APOLOGIES that fall outside category four. Apologizing all the time is annoying for other people, sometimes it’s passive aggressive, and it’s often undercutting my ability to be an actual human who takes up space and has crazy things like opinions. It needs to stop.
If you need to quit needlessly apologizing, join me this week! We have nothing to lose but an obnoxious habit! I’ll report back next week to let you know if my life has radically changed, or if I’ve died from the discomfort of being unable to apologize. Actually, if I die, Mary or Lisa will report back. Stay tuned!