This week, I have been reducing my use of the word sorry. I apologise a lot, for things that I ought to be sorry for and for things that are none of my doing. I routinely say sorry when someone stands on my foot, shuts a door that I’m trying to walk through, hits me in the face with their rucksack etc. I always saw it as good manners. However, there are connotations to the word sorry. It is an acceptance of blame, an admission that I am at fault. Fault is another word I overuse. “It’s not your fault” and “It is my fault” when often it is something in between.
So I decided to stop saying sorry. Yesterday, I managed to say sorry only 32 times (or 31.5 if I am being kind to myself). That was an improvement on previous days although I never before kept a tally. Today I am down to 7. I had to channel the Dowager Duchess of Downton initially because it felt so rude. It gets easier with every attempt though. I now pause and think “Do I owe this person an apology?” and if the answer is no, I smile and move on. But while it may feel mannerly to apologise to someone, it becomes dangerous when we begin to apologise for our existence and that is what I have been doing. It is common in the UK, and a lot of the time, it is not meant as an apology in the slightest. It is also used in a passive-aggressive manner in place of excuse me, when it translates roughly as “You are in my way, you buffoon”.
Now that I am noticing it, it seems that women apologise more than men. Certainly today I have had 5 or 6 woman say sorry to me and no men, not even the one who cannoned into me when I was leaving a shop earlier because he was looking at his phone. I didn’t say sorry either, though I would have done before. There is some evidence to prove that women are more likely than men to apologise and they are also more likely to use the word sorry in emails There is, in fact, a Google plug-in that will remove the word sorry and other undermining phrases (such as “I’m just” from your emails for you . I feel, however, that I need to self-edit my sorries rather than be criticised by my email. Some take it a step further and suggest that sorry should be replaced with thank you, but this only works for real apologies, rather than the sorry-that-you-almost-poked-my-eye-out-with- your-umbrella-spoke sort of sorry.
This is all part of a bigger picture project for me which I will talk about another time, but I think it is right that I shouldn’t apologise when I didn’t intentionally or accidentally do anything wrong or hurtful. It also means that when I do say sorry I will mean it. So onward, Dowager Duchess of Downton, the not sorry.