How to stand your ground and be frugal with ‘sorry’

Apologising is a positive trait, but one must not use it beyond a limit

By Asha Iyer Kumar

Published: Tue 20 Sep 2022, 10:44 PM

For the longest time now, my ambition has been to be remembered as a good human being when I am finally gone. In pursuit of this seemingly simple goal, I have acquired many habits and manners that have now become an intrinsic part of my quotidian dealings with people. It was probably towards this end that I infused the three magic words, ‘Thank you’, ‘I am sorry’ and ‘Please’ very early in my life, in the conviction that saying them automatically put me in the good books of people and made me a nice person in their eyes. At what point this practice became a flawed pattern, I don’t know, but slowly I began to realise that I was overdoing it, especially the apology part, by adding the ‘sorry’ word as an appendage and a preamble to explain situations in my conversations and correspondences.

It was a stiff response from a friend who calls a spade a spade that knocked me back to my senses. ‘Why are you sorry?’ he once asked and I didn’t know. Indeed, why? On another occasion, someone gave me an earful over something that had irked her and all I could do to defuse the situation was to apologise repeatedly, again without knowing why. Apparently, I had no idea what wrong I had done against her.

A couple of similar instances later, it began to occur to me that apologising was a positive trait, but when used beyond a limit and without plausible reason, it put me on the defensive and exposed my vulnerability. It made me susceptible to wrongful accusation and undermined my self-esteem. It was time for me to review my apology policy for my own good, not because I had shifted my priority to be a nice person, but because it was robbing my confidence to confront people in a legitimate way. I suspected that it might even make people think less of me, if I indulged in saying ‘sorry’ where it wasn’t even logically warranted.

Every time I feel an urge to change my habits that have been reigning for long, I first consider the reasons that makes me a slave to them. In this instance, I realized it was my absolute fear of antagonizing people that put me on the defensive. The last thing we want is to have our connections, which are already getting tenuous, to be snapped because of something we might have unwittingly said or done.

What I didn’t comprehend was that instead of making me rise in the eyes of the other person, it actually gave them the power to treat me in a condescending way. I was shunning myself into an emotional corner by exposing my fear of offending them inadvertently. Subsequently, I also learned that this fear of offending people emerged from my habit of picking intentions and emotions in their words and actions, and therefore, to pre-empt any further flare-up, I used the sorry word profusely, sabotaging myself.

What do we lose if we apologise? Why let our ego play spoilsport in our relations? Nice people don’t think twice before saying ‘sorry’ because it reflects on their basic virtues and an appreciable level of humility. I slowly began to remove these sections from my charter of belief systems, convinced in the thought that my apologies have to be genuine and not just a casual utterance. If I am at fault, I must apologise and show remorse and even go an extra mile to make amends, but I must not say ‘sorry’ at the drop of the hat. I must not attach a ‘sorry’ when I turn down requests politely, because to say ‘no’ is my privilege. I must not say ‘sorry’ in the assumption that the other person might consider me aggressive and rude, when all I am doing is giving the right responses.

I must not take responsibility for things beyond my control and pretend that a certain eventuality was of my doing, unless I am certain about my conscious role in it. I shall not offer apologies anymore in anticipation of adverse reactions from the other side. It had already caused some serious dents to my social skills and I intended not to give it more clout.

Saying ‘sorry’ is a virtue when you know you are at fault. But to imagine that you are at fault at all times and making its utterance a superfluity can not only take away from its magic, but also reduce your brand value as a poised and positive person. Good people don’t maintain relationships based on our capacity to yield, but based on our certitude and courage to be our authentic selves.

– Asha Iyer Kumar is a Dubai-based author, children’s writing coach and youth motivational speaker

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