When I saw the "Inside Amy Schumer" sketch about super-accomplished women apologizing for basically existing, I cringed. Save for the last scene, which goes to a dark comic place, I can relate. I often start conversations with strangers with: "I'm sorry, but do you know (how to get to X place or where the bathroom is, etc.)"
If I walk in front of someone at the supermarket or navigate to my airplane or seat at the movie theater, I don't say "Excuse me" as I was taught growing up, but usually "Sorry, So sorry!" as I try to leap over/move through and generally make myself less obtrusive.
And I definitely apologize for things that are other people's fault. A small smile and a "sorry" when someone runs into me; a "sorry to bother you, but" as the opener for many an email wondering where a paycheck has gone; or when my name has been misspelled somewhere important. Of course some men and others do this too — but it's most noticeable from women.
As Emma Gray writes on the Huffington Post about the video, "It's slightly uncomfortable to watch, because it feels too familiar. For many women, our default is to apologize without even realizing it."
How did this happen? And why is it that as women's power has increased, we are apologizing more than ever? Shouldn't the reverse be true?
When I interrogated myself about this, I came to the conclusion that in many of the situations where I said "Sorry," I felt that is what the other person should have said — and it was an expression of that annoyance.
Sloane Crosley's opinion piece in The New York Times tackles this brilliantly when she writes: "To me, [sorrys] sound like tiny acts of revolt, expressions of frustration or anger at having to ask for what should be automatic. They are employed when a situation is so clearly not our fault that we think the apology will serve as a prompt for the person who should be apologizing."
Does that hit home with you? It did for me.
"It’s a Trojan horse for genuine annoyance, a tactic left over from centuries of having to couch basic demands in palatable packages in order to get what we want," writes Crosley. But this is just one of the reasons sorry is problematic, not polite.
While I love Crosley's analysis, there's more to the problem with apologizing left, right and center. I think the word also inspires guilt when none is called for — when I say "sorry" instead of "excuse me," I tend to feel that I'm doing something wrong, even if I'm not. The apology for normal behavior makes me feel as if my actions need to be apologized for.
I'm not advocating for rudeness, just for using words correctly. "Excuse me" is polite; sorry is unnecessarily self-deprecating.
So I'm going to make a conscious effort to use sorry only when I genuinely need to apologize, which happens often enough! Will my life change if I only use "sorry" when it's actually correct to do so?
I'm not sorry to say that I think it will.