The other day, I was waiting in line at a coffee shop, deciding if the difference between a white chocolate Americano and a regular one was worth the extra 45 cents. As I contemplated, a barista passed in front of me to deliver someone’s coffee and said, “Excuse me.” Without thinking, my automatic reaction was to say “sorry.” Without hesitation, he swiftly replied with, “There's nothing to be sorry about.”
This brief, normally unmemorable exchange really struck me for some reason. In that moment, I thought, what was I sorry for? Standing? If I was genuinely sorry for being present in an exact location, that seemed pretty ridiculous. The reason I think I found it so profound was that my average reaction to a casual “sorry” is to say “it’s okay”, “you’re fine”, or ignore it altogether.
I got to thinking more about it, and I must not have much to do with my time, because I started recalling all the times I have ever given an insincere apology. Not the kind that I didn’t mean — like when I was younger and only apologized to someone because my mom or teacher made me — but all the times I’ve said it because I’ve been in someone’s way, accidentally brushed someone’s arm, or even because I needed to get their attention by starting with, “Sorry, can I … ?” Not surprisingly, this was something I started to realize that I did on a daily basis.
It’s not just me, though. Although my passive personality tends to make me to say this word more often than others, everyone tends to use this kind of polite apology. However, the word sorry is so often used in most interactions even though it really doesn’t mean you’re apologizing for anything. We use it to merely cover up slightly awkward situations of positioning, which contributes how this word has essentially lost it’s meaning.
Again, I have a lot of free time, so I searched for a video I remember seeing about how women say sorry too much. Last summer, the hair care brand Pantene released a video for their #ShineStrong campaign called “Not Sorry.”
In the minute-long video, it gives examples of women doing exactly what I recalled doing: saying sorry for things that didn’t deserve an actual apology. What I noticed is that, not just women, but people in general use sorry as a filler word for proper dialogue. It’s just become so normal in our society to use an average apologetic word that has no depth, which is odd to me.
The more I thought about it, the more this made me realize I want to be more aware of what I say. Knowing me, I’ll probably continue saying sorry for minute things that don’t matter, but I hope that by reevaluating my word choice, it can have an effect on how others perceive me. Instead of using an apology to fill the air, we should focus on producing more meaningful conversations.