I’ve previously ranted about the changing landscape of good manners and how common polite phrases are little more than a curtain of words that people haphazardly drape over their actions.
To me, there is no bigger offender in the world of etiquette than ‘sorry’. When used properly, it is an expression of contrition, an acknowledgement of wrongdoing or error with an unspoken promise of making amends in the future. Or at the least, a promise to consciously avoid the same error again.
More commonly though, it’s used as a form of self-absolution. As if the mere act of apologizing carries forgiveness within itself. At its very worst, it’s nothing more than a word casually tossed around like a football in a backyard, carrying no weight or meaning.
It’s seen in many forms and masked in various ways to give the appearance of apology while being anything but. A favorite of mine is ‘sorry if you were hurt/offended’. Wait, what? You’re sorry about the fact that I felt hurt, essentially slipping the blame into my pocket while nobody’s looking. You may as well be sorry that I display human emotion.
Another one commonly used by celebrities: ‘I’m sorry I let my fans down’. How about being sorry for the actual thing you did to let them down? You’re not being asked to apologize for getting a B+ instead of an A-. That would be letting your fans down. Really, you’re apologizing for getting caught.
There’s also the meaningless ‘Sorry for the Inconvenience’ whenever there’s a broken elevator or a closed road. Who’s sorry? And how are they sorry? You’re still being inconvenienced. Does a sign saying ‘sorry’ really help? If someone was blocking your way, told you to take a different route and followed it up with ‘sorry for the inconvenience’, would you take their apology to heart?
And of course, who hasn’t been involved in a debate that involved the phrase ‘I’m sorry, but…’? If you follow up an apology with an offense, it’s not really an apology, is it? May as well just say what you want to say instead of cloaking it in false politeness.
I’m really at the point where it gets under my skin whenever I hear someone say sorry, unless it really comes across as genuine. An apology isn’t forgiveness. It’s not reparation. At its core, it’s nothing. Your own attitude and actions are what give it meaning. If you’re truly sorry about something, you might not need to say anything at all.