You’re reading one of the warmest publications on Medium — no pun intended. And following a warm exchange with editor Agnes Louis, an idea percolated in my mind about the heavy weight of apologies, and how we are wont to overuse them.
My thesis is this: I want us to think differently about apologies this year. And, yes, we’re well into 2021, but there are no last calls for kindness.
“Sorrys are polite. They’re kind. They’re consolatory… They are absolutely infuriating… The ‘I don’t wanna argue about this anymore so I’ll just apologize’ kind of sorry? …Ya, those are the kinds of ‘Sorrys’ you need to stop saying.”
What we all can use, I believe, is a reminder of where we are in place and time. Perhaps you’ve forgotten that a highly transmissible respiratory virus is still raging around the world? Humans everywhere have been living an upside-down life for 400+ days.
It’s not simply the pandemic. It’s the economy, politics, horribly dangerous racial inequities. Etc., etc., etc. And when this all broke in early 2020, I noticed an uptick in the number of people who were apologizing for things which warranted no apologies.
Sorry, I couldn’t get my headphones to work for this meeting…
Sorry, did you not see that email I sent…
Sorry, [insert unnecessary reason here]…
Sorry is a big, heavy, important word. Surely, some people don’t say it enough (or ever) but some people rely on it like oxygen.
Apologies in real life
I recently talked with a colleague about his unwieldy, incessant need to apologize. He’s mighty nice and thoughtful, so I believe, in his mind, the phrase is second-nature. In addition to his goodness, he’s also incredibly sharp, so the things for which he apologizes don’t actually need the modifier.
When we spoke, I explored the ways in which being too outwardly conciliatory can be misread, especially in professional settings. The fix was very practical, and also very pandemic-practical.
While we still have the benefit of sitting behind our computer screens at home, I recommended he put a Post-It note on his screen with the word “SORRY” written on it as a visual prompt. It helped — a lot — and I noticed a marked change in the way he spoke and presented himself.
However, I was stuck on how present and common the tick was for him, and how it’s the same for many people.
Cultivating no-apology zones
This may sound a bit silly to you. In no small way, I hope it does. One of my constant refrains with anyone who‘s apologized to me over the past 14 months has been to say this:
“Interactions with me are no-apology zones.”
I don’t care if your headphones had a momentary blip. Or if you felt the need to nudge me about an email I missed. Or any other unnecessary reason. As it was in 2020 and as it is in 2021 — we’re in a no-apology zone.
In the time it takes for someone to feel and express sorrow for something menial, they can be filling that space with so much more goodness. And we, as recipients, could be doing so much more to cultivate that feeling in them and with them.
Wouldn’t that be a nice change of pace for an otherwise continually upside-down life?
I certainly feel it would be! And I’m sorry if you disagree. 🙃