I am not perfect. My wife, parents, colleagues and friends will all agree to that. I take comfort in knowing none of us are. I take comfort in knowing I have people who accept, forgive – and at times find funny – my errors.
Remorse was a big deal in my childhood. I was quick to say ‘I’m sorry’ whenever I had missed an expectation, social norm and especially when I knew I had done wrong. The words could often mean nothing; a casual phrase offered to placate the offended, words meant to neutralize an offense of some kind. Like we were told as children, actions speak louder than words. And when I was quick to point out that ‘I didn’t mean to’ I was reminded that I didn’t mean not to either.
When you are a kid the meaningful offenses which demand an apology are often much more frequent than when we are adults. The store owner from whom I lifted knick knacks as an eight year old got an apology. The judge who presided over my GTA hearing demanded and received a heart felt apology. My mother, who endured cruel language from me over the course of my young adulthood deserved and heard me say I’m sorry – more than once.
As an adult I have a greater grasp of wrong and right. I am thoughtful (most of the time) about what I say and what I do. Rarely do I allow myself to create a situation or react to one where I would need to say I am sorry. Instead my experience, intellect and common sense allow me to be proactive or conscious about what I am doing. I am considerate of others, though often dismiss their feelings in light of my own. And rarely am I sorry for it.
Yet, I find myself saying and hearing ‘sorry’ all the time. I rushed around the corner of a movie theater hallway and nearly ran into a man coming out of the bathroom. I said ‘I’m sorry.’
But for what? Walking too fast? Taking a corner too close? These hardly seem to be offenses needing an apology. The infraction was nothing more than causing another human being to half step as we saw each other, in order to avoid collision.
So yes, the phrase is overplayed and overused. But it is also over-excused.
We have begun expecting apologies to forgive a lack of courtesy and common sense. We allow the apologies to compensate for a lack of civility.
Late for a meeting? Sorry.
Watching a video on full blast in a public setting? Sorry (if we even get that).
FaceTiming with someone without headphones? Sorry.
Bumped your arm moving down the aisle of a plane? Sorry.
Dominated a conversation and didn’t let you speak? Sorry.
Checking your phone or email while someone is trying to communicate with you? Sorry.
Our personal and professional lives are where we should be trying to be better, to get better. Life itself isn’t just practice, it is a practice. We need to be more thoughtful about our actions, our time management, our attention and our lack of it.
Being excused has its time and place, but sorrow without remorse is insulting. And I think our societal subconscious is starting to realize it.