When was the last time you said, “I’m sorry.” This morning? Yesterday afternoon? Ten seconds ago? Why did you do it? More importantly did you mean it?
I recently wrote a paper for my second year Celtic Literature course on the topic of apology and how our current understanding of apologies has mutated from holding moral implications to being tools of social manipulation. For the purposes of the paper I analyzed a short story entitled The Dinner written by an Irish author, Roddy Doyle but the writing process made me begin to analyze myself by default.
How often do I apologize? Quite often I realized upon reflection. And I do not think that being Canadian has anything to do with it – or at least that’s not the defining factor that behind my apologetic nature.
When I discussed my paper with my Celtic Lit professor he related to me an anecdote about how when he was in Ireland someone had asked him for a cigarette outside of a pub. He had responded, “No,” and followed his response with an almost automatic, “Sorry.” The man who had requested the cigarette looked him in the eyes and said something along the lines of, “You’re okay man,” and then ambled down the street on his merry way. From then on my professor said that he has become more conscious of when he apologizes and only says he’s sorry when it’s appropriate. Saying, “Pardon me,” is a good substitute for, “I’m sorry,” and that’s the phrase he now employs when he feels it is required.
But why do we apologize so much? Well, I posit that we apologize to cover up other emotions. We do not want to make waves or perpetuate drama so we apologize. At times there is no real regret behind our apologies we simply make them and pretend to feel instead of actually addressing our anger, resentment, sadness or whatever feeling prompted us to misstep in life. Apologies are masks – they also provide us with the false image that life can always be smoothed over by three words. They promise us perfection and we believe in them.
“I am sorry, ” is often followed by the word, “but” which implies a negation of what was said directly before the conjunction appeared in the sentence. This basically implies that we do indeed mean our apologies but only to the point of how they can serve us, for example: “I am sorry I changed the layout without telling you but now the company is going with my design because they prefer it.” The unsaid comments from that example include – now they’ll give me my due credit, you should thank me for sparing you the embarrassment of showing them your work only to receive a rejection – and on, and on the subtextual monologue goes.
I realize that this post paints a very dim view of society; however, I am not suggesting that apologies be completely eradicated from our vocabulary nor am I arguing that when people make apologies that they always have a secret agenda. I am simply putting my ideas on the internet for all to read and no, I am not sorry for expressing my opinions.
Remember, life is short. Do not be sorry for what you could not do. I often find myself apologizing to people who have expectations of me that I never invited or accepted. No one can do everything – do not apologize for the paths not taken.
Always say, “Please, and thank you.” Reserve, “I’m sorry,” for when you mean it.
Given that it is Christmas and the rest of the holidays are just around the corner I merely want people to remember how much words matter. So, if you say you’re sorry to someone this week, or this year – please, take a minute to make sure that you mean what you say. If not, you’re covering up something – you’re being dishonest to yourself and to them. Work out your problems. Talk them out. Don’t gloss life over because while LIFE is a magazine your existence isn’t and it’s not meant to be edited, or retouched.
We are too young to cheat ourselves out of genuine emotions or conversations.