hard to say: I’m not sorry

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I’ve been on both sides of a customer service call. I’ve had to make many a phone call to address both technical and billing issues for phone, internet, or television. I think most of us have. And after explaining my problem to the stranger on the other end of every call, without fail, I would get an apology.

Gosh, that’s just terrible. I can imagine how frustrating that must be. I’m so sorry!

When I worked in this position (ages ago) taking calls from frustrated customers, I was taught this tactic. Listen patiently, apologize and show empathy, etc. The more specifically you were able to repeat back the customer’s problem, the more effectively you could diffuse them. If they felt their concerns were heard and validated, they could relax. It was very effective!

Imagine my shock when I moved on to an outbound calling position for fundraising purposes – I am honestly shocked how much I enjoyed that job – only to find that apologizing was not a part of their process.

But we were literally calling people and interrupting their day to bother them about giving us money! Yes, that is all true, money for honorable causes. Even though 99 percent of the time it was a no, and we were often hung up on, we were taught to never feel an ounce of guilt about it. “Because there is nothing wrong with what we are doing.”

I’ve done a lot of genuine apologizing for some seriously shitty things I’ve done. I’m sure I’ll do more in the future when I fuck up again. But for now, I’d like to take this opportunity to take back some sorries.

You see, for the purpose of making strangers around me feel more comfortable, and to prevent potential conflicts, I had adapted the apologizing tactic into my life. When anything happened, regardless of how small or insignificant, I took full and immediate acceptance of blame and apologized. Sorry became like a knee jerk reaction.

I was overseas when I was first made aware of how often I was apologizing. I shrugged it off and responded: “Oh, whatever. Canadians are polite.” But this did not satisfy my critic. “Politeness is one thing, but you are beating me over the head with your manners. Cut it out.”

Since then, I am much more conscious of it – and it is pretty excessive.

I am most definitely not sorry. I’m not sorry I was in your way when you walked backwards into me. I’m not sorry I accidentally nudged you when I walked by. I’m not sorry I started speaking at the same time as you. I’m not sorry for taking ten seconds to put my coins and receipt into my purse. I’m not sorry I beat you to this parking spot. I’m not sorry I interrupted the silence by dropping my pen on the floor. I’m not sorry for cracking my knuckles. I’m not sorry for sneezing. I’m not sorry for choking on my water and having a coughing fit. And I’m not sorry when I laugh so hard that milk shoots out of my nose.

I am going to try something radical. I am removing the words “I’m sorry” from my daily language repertoire and I will save them for when I truly mean it. Until then they will be replaced with things like “excuse me” or “oops.”

In doing so, I hope to cultivate the mindset that I am just as worthy to take up this space as anybody else. After all we are equals and we may all move freely and make noise and drop things and express ourselves. Indeed, there is nothing wrong with anything I am doing, so I am not sorry.

-EC

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