I’m Sorry vs. Excuse Me

March 29, 2010

I think a lot about these two exchangeable phrases.  I’ve actually been kicking around the idea for this post for months now because I think about it so much.  Maybe it seems trivial or silly to some people, but I think there is a lot said about someone if their go-to phrase is one or other.

So, you bump into someone, or your yoga mat on your back maybe grazes them on the subway (my most constant problem), or you get in someone’s way, or maybe you’re not even in their way, really, you just have to walk around someone.  I wish I could say my phrase were to say “excuse me” but my knee jerk, what comes out of my mouth CONSTANTLY, multiple times almost every day is “I’m sorry.”

I think this is problematic.  If you look at this pattern closely, it means that I am in a constant state of apologizing. In context it’s for being in the way, but in the grand scheme, I think it could be translated as a constant apology for being at all. I’m sorry I’m here. I’m sorry I have anything to do with your space, I don’t belong here, my simple presence is problematic.

I realize this could seem like a big leap to make to some people, and I certainly don’t believe the above thoughts are ACTUALLY going through my head when I say this quick, common turn of phrase. But I think it speaks to an endemic problem, which I want to fix.  And fixing this wee locution, I think could aid in fixing the larger problem.

The other day at the end of one of my favorite yoga classes, I had to skip around a gentlemanly older fellow when our paths crossed taking props back to the prop closet. As per habit, I smiled and muttered “sorry,” and he responded, in a way only a gentlemanly older man could, “Why? What’dya do?”

I laughed at the response and immediately decided I liked him (by the way – immediately deciding I like or do not like certain people based on seconds’ worth of interaction is another habit I could stand to break) and his jovial ways.  But then I got to thinking – that’s sort of a profound thought.  What the hell DID I do wrong? Nothing. I was just there, in closer proximity to another being than I meant to be. There’s nothing for which to apologize, other than my presence, which should not warrant any apology whatsoever.

I’ve been going through palpable, direct and intentional change of late.  Change can be painful. It’s happening all the time, of course; it is, in fact, the only thing that’s happening, really.  But when you see patterns you dislike and make a pointed effort to change something, there can be a lot of exhausting effort and discomfort involved.  But if there’s one major thing that has to be altered, at any and all exhaustive and painful cost, it’s apologizing for my presence.

I, we, all of us, deserve to be here. No matter what. No matter what we’ve done, how we’ve harmed ourselves or others. There’s no reason to apologize for existence.


One comment

  1. I like this sentiment, I’m a big “i’m sorry” guy in subways, and with street/bar bumps. But while I have found saying I’m sorry with a smile can be diffusive to some people who might otherwise respond aggressively, I do tend to feel a little uncomfortable after… there must be some Pavlovian guilt kicking in that is associated with “I’m sorry.” Perhaps I’ll try “excuse me” with a smile.

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