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Sorry Not Sorry

This world is topsy turvy and upside down. People say sorry when there is no need and don't say sorry when they should. There are commercials, blogs, and much ado about this trend with women, who naturally seek harmony and want to seem polite. (check out this article: http://www.levo.com/articles/lifestyle/im-sorry-problem-women-have)While women may say sorry more often, I see this issue with men as well. Many of my students are constantly apologetic for doing or saying things that are of no offense whatsoever and deserve nothing more than a response or return action. My work study assistants regularly apologize for knocking on my door, interrupting me from nothing more than email, to let me know they have assisted me with a task or to inform me of a visitor. I regularly tell them there is no need to apologize to me for a job well done. When I suggest a student move a certain activity to another location on their resume, they apologize. I reassure them that if all college students knew how to organize a resume I'd be out of a job.

If you stop and listen, on any given day people are apologizing for actions that require no apology. The Levo article author references another author, Linda Sapadin PHD, who argues, "By taking responsibility for things that aren't your fault you denigrate your self esteem." Perhaps in a world that seems chaotic, in a world where many think others are being too sensitive, or are too easily offended, people apologize for self protection and out of a desire for harmony.

Remember, this is a topsy turvy world. So, for all those people apologizing for no reason, there are just as many people who refuse to apologize when they should. No surprise here that articles have been written on this topic as well: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/04/why-apologize/274622/. The author of this article writes that no one likes to apologize and that social science suggests people feel better when they refuse to apologize. The article argues that apologizing, when necessary, isn't about us, it is about the receiver. Again, if one is to stop and listen, on any given day people are taking actions that hurt others and they do not apologize for those actions and those people may even be defiant or indignant about a lack of apology. Ever heard the phrase, "Sorry Not Sorry"? Refusal of apologies is a joke. We make decisions about when, and to whom, we should apologize and we rationalize the personal benefits of that apology often over the benefits to the other person. Think about the flip side. Why would people over apologize so much if it wasn't about them? I don't feel like a better person when someone apologizes to me for not knowing they were to spell out months on a resume. Similarly to what was written in the Levo article, an apology can be perceived as a lack of self-esteem. Apologizing hurts egos. Apologizing takes power from one and gives it to another.

Take me, for example. I fall in the gender conforming apology category at work. I'm more cognizant of it now that I see it take shape with my students, but, I often have a tendency to apologize when it's not needed or to over apologize when I feel that I have wronged someone or messed up. At work, I want harmony and if that means sacrificing myself for the harmony, I choose that. I let the balance of power move away from me in many work situations. As a manager it's not always the best decision so I'm working on getting through tough situations that might not be so harmonious.

Now at home, I prefer the upper hand. I want the power. When Andy and I are arguing, I'll say ludicrous things. I rarely apologize for them. Remember that Bare Naked Ladies song about the fight? "It'll still be two weeks 'til I say I'm sorry." That's me. Even if I know I was a jack-hole, by apologizing to Andy, I think I'll lose my power. I am that person who feels good about refusing to apologize. Similarly to the changes needed at work with decreasing unnecessary apologies, I'm working at home to apologize more often when I should, and to recognize that I'm not losing "power" when I say I'm sorry for being a dick during a heated moment.

By now you are thinking about what happened to me recently to look up articles on apologies and write this whole narrative about it. Yes, something did happen to me and it's got my wires firing. Yesterday we went to civilization and stopped at The Mall. Any smart parent knows this is a bad idea. Within moments of being at The Mall, the children went into a feeding frenzy and started bouncing off the walls. Caro had a huge meltdown over what can be summed up as an issue over her decision to buy flowers at the grocery store and then not being able to purchase a plastic tiara at Claire's Boutique. The incident included flailing, screaming and a Mall Cop. Even after we worked out the situation, both kids were moaning and whiny but I still needed 10 minutes to buy a few things at The Big Bookstore. As I waited in line to make the purchases, the kids took turns asking me to buy them a number of assorted items in the check out line to which I firmly replied no over and over. When it was my turn to check out, I ignored the children's pleas for book marks and calendars and gave the Check Out Lady a big smile and hello. Now, before me, she'd been chatting it up with a customer, talking about vacation destinations. With me, however, her voice became soft, almost a whisper. She looked up at me through her bangs and said, "I'm sorry."

Her apology didn't register with me initially. It was probably because she was competing with the kids, who were talking to me simultaneously, and Andy, who was standing at the door, asking me about something he just saw on Facebook. Then, The Check Out Lady asked me if we were members of their book club. I let her know we live far away and therefore we wouldn't use the book club that often, so no thank you. What did she say again? You guessed it. In her hushed tone she said, "I'm so sorry." Well, I was befuddled and my head hurt from everyone talking to me and the whole Mall Cop situation so I replied, "Don't be sorry!" Apparently my sass was enough for the Check Out Lady who retreated to her customer service cave. With no other words exchanged, she slipped my items, and receipt, in the bag and we were off like a tornado. We touched down, wreaked havoc, and whirled away leaving the Check Out Lady in an apologetic dust.

I had no choice but to try to break it down on the drive from civilization to the sticks. Andy was of no help, of course. Why did she apologize? Was it because she felt she spoke too long to the previous customer? Was it because she was sorry about us missing out on the benefits of the book club? Was it because the items I picked sucked and she knew it and I didn't? Was it because the customer is always right and she kicked off the power struggle by laying that right out with an apology? Or was it because my kids were acting up and she could see that and she felt bad for me? Was she reading my mind and seeing that, at that moment, I was feeling sorry for myself and apologizing to myself for my decision to be a parent and have all of my personal power sucked away from me and given to child tyrants? It looks like I'll never know and I'll be left to always wonder why the Check Out Lady apologized to me.

I'm reading into it of course, but let me be clear. Let go of your power and apologize to me if you accidentally bump me or call me a bitch to my face and then regret it. Apologize if you provide me with poor customer service or if you were to do something for me and you fell through on doing it. Don't apologize to me for my decision to be a parent. It's not your fault that I have kids. It's Andy's. And yes, some days I feel bad about it and I feel sorry about how hard it is to be a parent. But let this be known, less than five seconds after removing my little micro bursts from The Mall, and they were happily tucked into their car seats, snacking and watching their iPads and telling me cute things about how fun the day was, I thought to myself: Sorry Not Sorry.

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