When a Pet Peeve Becomes a Social Movement

There is a growing portion of the feminists in America (I don’t know about elsewhere, as I don’t live there) who are up in arms about the fact that many women say “I’m sorry” too much.

Now, there is a part of that that is necessary AND positive.

Women should NOT have to apologize for taking space, or for being themselves, or anything except when they’ve truly done something wrong, and are regretful for it.


That’s not the ONLY reason that people say the words “I’m sorry.”

The other definition for that phrase is NOT about taking responsibility for anything.  In fact, it is a simple gesture of compassion and sympathy.  It’s saying, “I hear you, and understand this is hard for you.  I regret it is happening, and I’m here if you need me.”

But given how much compassion we seem to have lost for our fellow man, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that people have forgotten that there ever has been another meaning for that phrase.

I did a Google search looking for articles about saying “sorry” and compassion.  And most of what I found is basically people STILL thinking that the words “I’m sorry” can only mean that somehow a person is taking responsibility for someone else’s life and choices.

Look, we all understand that compassion and sympathy are a difficult concept.  It can be difficult to watch those you love go through difficult and emotionally trying issues.  But, if we’re going to have a healthy relationship, I can’t reach in and fix it for someone no matter how much I might want to.  I can’t force them to choose a solution, or even SOLVE their issue, no matter how clearly I might see a need for that solution.  The ONLY way someone changes is if they’re motivated to do so inside of themselves.

For me, saying something along the lines of “I’m sorry you’re experiencing that” allows me to acknowledge that they are in a difficult place, and yet communicate my willingness to be a support for them if they need me.  And sometimes those words that are supposed to “replace” the words “I’m sorry” don’t actually communicate the full measure of the SORROW I feel in witnessing pain in someone I love.

If you look at a dictionary for the word sorry, you will see at least 7 different ways to use it, of which ONLY TWO relate to apology or regret.  And if you look at its etymology, you’ll find the word has the exact same root as the word “sorrow.” In fact, the word apology itself originated as a Greek word meaning “to speak in defense” (i.e. explanation).

I’m not ashamed to use the word “sorry” to communicate my compassion and sympathy for my fellow man.  And I resent being told that I should be ashamed of it.

Categories: Mental Retraining | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “When a Pet Peeve Becomes a Social Movement

  1. alexmoriah86

    I think that when feminists are critical of how often women use the word sorry, they are specifically talking about the sense of the word that means taking on responsibility for someone else or when women use it to communicate that they have done something wrong when they haven’t. Women often apologize for things that they haven’t don’t wrong, as if just existing in the world, speaking, or having a different opinion are wrongs that they should apologize to men for. Maybe there are people who take that idea overboard. Saying sorry is certainly an important part of human communication, accountability, and compassion, when used appropriately. As a feminist, I don’t want women to feel that they must over-use it to apologize to men for things that there’s no reason for them to apologize for, just because it’s a gender norm for women. It’s about being honest with ourselves about why we are really saying sorry. It’s been a huge struggle for me to stop apologizing to people who don’t need or deserve an apology. I had to stop viewing myself as inherently flawed or as a nuisance to men.

    • As a feminist, I definitely agree that the codependent response to take far more responsibility for the world around us is something that needs change.

      But in the process, we can’t go overboard and throw the baby out with the bathwater.

      Sadly, I have the opposite problem. I stand by what’s right, which often means I’m in conflict with men. So, I get labeled as a ‘wannabe man.’

      Nope, just a woman willing to stand up.

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