I was a school orientation leader for a group of exchange students from Norway once and they commented on a particular observation they found humorous: when our buses are full, a message saying, “Sorry – bus is full” is displayed in the front. This had never occurred to me as something out of the ordinary, and I wondered if the Canadian stereotype was true. In real life, I also say, “Sorry” a lot.
I apologize when I bump into someone, make a lame joke, or ask for a favour. I use “Sorry” as a replacement for “Excuse me” or “Pardon”. Sometimes I even say, “Sorry” as a reply to someone else saying, “Sorry”. Again, I never thought too much about it until I saw Yao Xiao‘s comics on apologies.
Xiao’s critique of constantly apologizing is that it creates a tendency to put yourself down, which can negatively impact self-development. She suggests using “Thank you” as a replacement for “Sorry”, explaining that “Acknowledging that you appreciate someone who [cares] for you is a very nice thing to do and makes both parties feel great.”
And while it’s important to own up to your mistakes by apologizing, it is equally important to remember that there is nothing wrong in asking for help, needing something, or simply existing.
Since coming across Xiao’s comics, I have been trying to say more thank-yous than apologies, especially when my apologies are meant to be thank-yous. What I’ve noticed is that not only has it increased my gratefulness and love for the people in my life, it has also helped me see myself in a better light. In thanking others, I recognize his or her positive attributes and accept them as characteristics I would like to see more in myself. This emphasizes positivism and change instead of something I simply lack and cannot gain.
Obviously, it doesn’t make sense to say, “Thank you” when you bump into someone or when you’re late for a meeting. A bus zooming by with a message saying, “Thank you – bus is full” would also add onto the existing annoyance of missing a bus, but if you want appreciate somebody for something, don’t apologize. Don’t say, “Sorry for taking up your time” or “Sorry you had to do that for me”.
There is a reason there are good people in your life. There is a reason why people are good to you. Most likely, it’s because you are also good to them. You are also good.
P.S. Response to this week’s Discover challenge: Apology