I suspect everybody has done it at some time in their lives – or felt it, at least. The guilt which seems to come out of nowhere and which induces apology. We feel ‘bad’ and responsible for someone else’s discomfort. In the UK, it has become part of the culture to say ‘sorry’ a lot! We say “sorry I’m late” when we have been held up by traffic or a late train, or if we feel depressed and disheveled we say “sorry I’m such a mess”. So many people feel it necessary to apologise when they are reduced to tears in public. Remember those times when you meet a stranger face to face on a pavement, so that one of you has to give way? How often do you find yourself saying “sorry” as they step into the road.
Of course, there are times when an apology is legitimate and appropriate. When we need to take responsibility for knowingly having hurt someone, or for accepting that a thoughtless act has been the cause of inconvenience. However, there are many times when saying ‘sorry’ is more of an automatic response and we don’t even think about saying it, let alone about whether we really mean it or need to say it.
In this new year, I am going to try to stop – and think – each time the words rise to my lips. I am going to ask myself why I might need to apologise, and whether what I am really doing is projecting onto others an expectation of what they are going to feel! How do I feel about myself when I needlessly expect that they will be hurt, inconvenienced and angry at me? Not very good – to say the least – is the answer. Perhaps the ‘sorry’ should be directed at myself!
Was it really my fault that I was delayed for our meeting? Is it my fault that I feel depressed and awful, and haven’t got round to washing my hair in days? Is it my fault that we meet on the pavement head on? If I am not to blame, do I need to take responsibility? Also, do I then need to assume that someone else is going to be upset? If they are not upset and are strong enough to cope with the situation, why do I then grant them the power (and responsibility) to deal with my discomfort? ‘Sorry for making you need to be responsible for my guilt’.
So now I resolve to give other people my gratitude instead. “Thank you for waiting for me”. “Thank you for accepting me unconditionally when I am feeling wretched and can offer you nothing”. “Thank you for choosing to be the one who steps into the road”. Every time I start to say ‘sorry’ I’m going to try ‘thank you’ instead. Please join me!