Thursday, January 15, 2009

So Sorry...

I read an interesting blog post on Doublechinned the other day in which she talks about the constant need to apologize:
But throughout this whole ordeal, I kept apologizing.

For what? I'm not sure.

Maybe for being a bother to the waitress and manager? That makes no sense, because it wasn't like I was making outrageous demands. These were simple requests that were not out of the ordinary because they were right (the coupon and the ticket).

It was like I was apologizing for my existence. Why say you're sorry when you're not the one at fault? Unless you're just used to apologizing all the time.

Which I am.
I do this, too. I'm constantly saying, "Oh, I'm sorry." Had a bad day? I'm sorry. You didn't get that promotion you wanted? So sorry. You made a mistake, and I'm the one who's sorry. We have a joke with some friends that everything is always Chris's fault, but Ed will apologize.
Maybe it's just because, through the years of being fat, I've come to always apologize simple for existing, for getting in the way, for causing any sort of problem.
Yeah, I know that feeling. Anyway, in her comments, I talked about some of my favorite books, The Liaden series by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller. I'd mangled my way around one of the things someone says, trying to explain my point. Unfortunately, I both misremembered the quote, and actually mashed together two separate conversations, so I'll repeat them here for your benefit.

"I'll never live it down." [Priscilla] sighed. "Will it help if I say I'm sorry?"

"Are you sorry? You might ask me to forgive it, if you think I'm offended. But Liadens don't in general say that they're sorry. It's an admission of guilt, you see. Asking forgiveness acknowledges the other person's right to feel slighted, hurt, or offended without endagering your right to act as you find necessary."

Conflict of Honors, Sharon Lee & Steve Miller

"... Liadens are very formal. Very--structured. There are six ways to ask forgiveness--six different postures, six distinct phrases, and six seperate bows--and none of the six are what a Terran would call an apology. Apologies are--very rare."

Plan B, Sharon Lee & Steve Miller

Sometimes I wish we had a High Liaden (the formal speach, used for speaking with all but the closest of friends and relatives) and a Low Liaden. High Liaden has several different modes (Adult to Adult, Pilot to Pilot, Younger Sibling to Elder, to a Delm Not One's Own, and even such obscurities as Parents of One's Most Valued Mentor...) which allows people to express themselves in relation to the status of the other speaker, to give honor where honor is due, and of course, to very subtly insult someone. (Sticking to Low Liaden when someone else is speaking High is considered VERY rude. But some people can get away with it.)

In any case, the comments that Allison made on her blog reminded me very much of these scenes. Do we (fat women) apologize too much, because we think we are at fault? That our existence is causing a problem for someone else?

Is is also a little bit of self-martyrdom. By apologizing - for the lousy day - am I taking on a burden that isn't mine, for the purposes of making the other person acknowledge me?

"God, it's been a tough day at work today."

"I'm sorry."

"You didn't do anything! You're fine. Perfect, even. It's just..."

Am I secretly asking to be reassured that it's not my fault? That I'm not the reason the other person is upset or angry?

It's a little reminder to myself. I don't need to apologize for being here. I don't need to apologize for taking up space, for being human, or for the weather. I can express sympathy without accepting, or offering, any blame.

Apologies should be rare.


Anonymous said...

Being also a fan of the Liaden books, I find myself very attracted to the notion of sympathizing without apologizing.

It's hard to get around the use of the word "sorry" in English, though, because "my sympathies" sounds a little... remote. The next best thing is to use it in more complete sentences. Like, my boss told me he was going to take tomorrow afternoon off because he's going with his wife to have their cat put to sleep.

"I'm so sorry to hear that," makes it pretty clear that I'm sympathizing with the loss, not apologizing for anything.

If you really do want to expunge the use of "sorry" from your vocabulary (apart from actually expressing remorse, of course), I'd recommend practicing some phrases in advance, so you're prepared. And if you come up with something less stilted-sounding than "my sympathies" for bad news, by all means, let me know.


Summer said...

I'm a sorry sort. I bring out that word way too often. I apologize readily for things that are clearly my fault, but more often for things that for which I'm only vaguely to blame, like making a dish too spicy because I used a jalapeno that was one of those mutant nuclear ones. I apologize when I'm asking people for help; "I'm sorry, but could you bring me my coffee?" I say it if I can't understand what someone said. I will apologize if you tell me your stomach hurts, even if it's not from my too-spicy food. Often "I'm sorry" is shorthand, and should have another phrase attached, like "I'm sorry to hear that," but I do wind up apologizing way too often. It drives my husband crazy when I reply "I'm sorry" when he tells me something like "my feet hurt," so I've trained myself not to say it to him unless I personally have screwed up. It still slips out sometimes, though.

And I do, always, want confirmation that someone's bad mood is not because of me. It's not unusual to me to ask my husband outright if he's angry at me, which annoys him almost as much as the apologies. He maintains that it's self-centered to assume that everything is always about me.

I don't think I do it because I'm apologizing for existing, though, and even at my heaviest I've always been confident that I'm a reasonably attractive person. But I'm pretty sure that I picked up the "sorry" bug from my mother, who is a classic sufferer of body image dysmorphia, and she often mentions things like that her "bad legs" made her unworthy of success.

So is it a case of a low sense of self-worth, assuming that one's always at fault, or of an inflated sense of importance, that the world revolves around ME? Or is it, perhaps, just a sloppy verbal habit?

Finally, my favorite alternatives to "I'm sorry (to hear that)":
That's too bad! (or: terrible! awful! sucks!)
You poor thing!
Oooooooooh. [shaking head]

Summer said...

I've already written too much, I know, but I just realized an important point. In the years when I was running a business, I had to learn to NOT say sorry to clients, especially when someone called with a problem with a job. Saying "sorry" in that case would have implied fault, and might have wound up costing us a lot of money. "That's too bad" and "thank you for letting me know" indicated that I cared about their problem, without admitting that it was my fault. (Which it sometimes was. Shhhh!)

Anonymous said...

Id not heard of liaden.
so thank you for that.
I have a dear friend who is always apologizing.
and it makes me sad for her sometimes.

Im sending her to read this post.