Why I Won’t Stop Apologizing


By Jillian Stacia

The other day I was talking to a coworker about his weekend. Complete with flat tires, family problems, and a sick dog, it sounded like the weekend from hell. When I told him I was sorry, he angrily retorted: “Why? It’s not your fault. You apologize too much.”

This is not the first time I’ve been told to “stop apologizing.” As a feminist, I understand that women generally accept and carry unnecessary blame. But I disagree with our cultural belief that offering an apology is a sign of weakness. Apologizing is strength.

In these kinds of situations, I apologize not because I am admitting guilt (although, would that really be the worst thing in the world?), but because I feel empathy. I recognize how hard your situation is, and I genuinely feel bad about it. I use my apology to communicate that empathy. It’s not “I’m sorry I ruined your weekend”, it’s “I’m sorry your weekend was ruined. That must’ve really sucked.” See the difference?

Apologizing isn’t always an omission of guilt. Sometimes it just means you see and acknowledge another person’s pain and discomfort. That’s how we reach out. That’s how we connect. With empathy. With I’m sorry. With validation of the suckiness that surrounds us.

What would it look like if we all just made a little more space for each other’s discomfort? If we held each other’s hands and said I hear you, I see you, I feel your pain, and I am genuinely and truly sorry you have to go through this.

Too often, I find myself too busy to feel sorry, too busy to help others. I’m too frantic. I have a deadline. A house to clean. A workout to get to. Dinner to make.

And so I leave. I end the conversation. I don’t ask follow up questions or lean in or offer a hand. I don’t apologize. I don’t invest. I leave the person alone to sift through and clean up their mess. And for what reason? Because I don’t have time? Because I don’t know what to say anyway? Because acknowledging someone’s pain is really hard sometimes? Because it reminds us of our own?

I don’t want to be that person- the one who is forever guarded and feigns indifference and is just too busy to give a shit. Who hears about your difficult weekend and shrugs. Who learns about earthquakes in Italy and says “oh well, not much I can do.” Who sees homeless people on the street and doesn’t even bother to look them in the eye.

And yeah, it’s probably a leap to equate saying sorry about a problem you didn’t cause with earthquakes and homelessness, but maybe it’s not all that different. Maybe saying sorry is the way to crack open the door. Maybe it’s the first tiny step to getting closer to becoming the person who feels, who acknowledges, who cares.

There is so much pain and tragedy and overwhelming shittiness in the world. And I have no idea how to solve any of it. No freaking clue. But I know the answer isn’t to run away, or ignore it, or act like it isn’t my problem.

So I’m going to keep apologizing. For the things I did wrong and the things that I witness that have nothing to do with me. I’m going to say sorry for every bit of pain I see. I’m going to stand in the middle of it with my arms outstretched instead of running in the other direction.

Because empathy is always strength, and connection is our biggest asset.

Jillian is part of the Contributing Writer Network at Thirty On Tap. To apply to become a Contributing Writer, click HERE

{featured image via unsplash}