Have you ever stopped yourself before saying, “I’m sorry”? When you are about to say it or saying it, have you ever really thought about what you are saying or is it more like a preconditioned auto-response? Whenever I hear myself saying “I’m sorry”, I am reminded of middle school. One day in class, I cannot remember why I said it, but I said “I’m sorry” to a teacher. The teacher’s immediate response was, “Are you a sorry person?” I was taken aback because of course I did not think I was a sorry person. Truth be told, I probably didn’t even realize I had said “I’m sorry”. It was a weird auto-reply reaction to an innocent goof up, but was I really “sorry”? I sheepishly said, “No, I am not a sorry person”. My teacher said, “Then don’t say you are sorry”, and that was the end of the conversation. It was a very short exchange but seeing that I was in middle school quite a while ago, it has had a lasting effect. Why was I so quick to say, “I’m sorry” and why is it such a common auto-response when it might not even be warranted?
Women in general and especially Black women, tend to take on heavy burdens. We can sometimes be quick to feel remorseful or tend to feel sorry for things we have no control over. Ever since that moment in middle school, I am more aware when I utter the word sorry. I still catch myself from time to time saying it when I do not need to. I’ve even been in situations where I’ve found myself saying sorry for saying sorry, haha. Though I haven’t been able to completely remove the word from my day-to-day vocabulary, I am more intentional when it comes to choosing the right words to say when I want to express my distress or concern.
The word sorry is defined as 1. feeling distress, especially through sympathy with someone else’s misfortune. and 2. feeling regret or penitence based on the Oxford Language definition. Looking at the definition of the word really puts its usage into context. There are definitely times when I feel sorry for something I’ve done like bumping into someone and causing them to spill their beverage is a legit “sorry” example. However, if someone has decided to sit in my assigned seat and I say, “I’m sorry, but I believe you’re in my seat” – am I the one that’s sorry? No! If I’m at a concert and someone decides to stand right in front of me and I say, “I’m sorry, but I can’t see, do you mind moving over?” What do I have to be sorry about at that moment? Did I do something wrong? Nope. A classic “sorry, not sorry” moment for me that I have to catch myself with is apologizing for the weather. “Hey girl, I’m sorry it’s so hot/cold/rainy out today!” Why am I apologizing for the weather?! The weather is something I have absolutely NO control over but yet I feel inclined to feel regret and remorse for the conditions outside.
Words are powerful and that is why it is always important to choose your words wisely, even the words we are saying about ourselves. I’ve made it a practice to be more conscious and refrain from saying, “I’m sorry”. I tend to say, “I apologize” instead if I believe I’ve done something and I’m at fault. By taking away the “I am” in “I am sorry” and saying, “I apologize”, my action is being expressed without creating a statement about myself. Think about it this way, “I am” is commonly used for affirmations and powerful statements so make sure you’re using “I am” for good and being kind to yourself. Similar to my middle school teacher calling me out by asking me if I was a sorry person, constantly saying “I am sorry” is constantly putting that statement about yourself into the universe.
Alternative phrases to use are, “Parton me” or “Excuse me” when there is the occasional bump or need to get someone’s attention. There is no need to be remorseful or express regret to get someone’s attention or ask someone to move to the side so you can get a better view. As women and Black women in particular continue to take up space in a world where we’ve been moved to the side for quite some time, there is no need to say sorry for taking that seat at the table.
Let’s use our words wisely and with intention!