Kol Nidre Sermon: Sorry, Not Sorry

 

Tonight is the culmination of the last ten days, or, perhaps, the entire last year –

We have reached the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur,

the day to admit to our wrongdoings, our faults, our flaws.

The day we acknowledge the ways in which we’ve missed the mark,

we’ve behaved poorly, or wronged our fellow human beings.

For ten days, the Gates of Repentance have been open,

awaiting our return to God and to our best selves.

As the machzor reminds us,

Yom Kippur atones for transgressions we’ve committed against God,

but not for transgressions against other people

We teach our kids to say, “I’m sorry,”

to their friends, family members, and others they’ve wronged.

And we adults work so hard to do the same.

 

Ironically, perhaps,

I want to point out something that too many of us do, much too often.

Some of us say I’M SORRY too much.

Some of us need to STOP APOLOGIZING so much.

Oh, you know what? I’m sorry, I need to start over again. I’m so sorry.

(looking at Meg) “Oh, Meg, I’m sorry – can we just do that last song again?”

(looking at Liz Jones) “Oh, Liz, I’m sorry, I allergic to strawberries, can you just check the oneg food?”

(looking at Seth) “Oh, Seth, I’m so sorry to bother you, but can I ask you something?”

 

Why do so many of us feel inclined to start so many

sentences, questions, or requests with an apology?

There are certainly more than enough times

that it is appropriate to offer apologies or to amend a broken relationship.

But we use this phrase so much more than necessary.

 

Ani Vrabel, in a column[1] for Huffington Post, addresses this in her own life:

At some point, I began using “sorry” as a synonym for “excuse me.” It came to mean, “I didn’t see you there and you startled me!” and “I have a question” and “I’m carrying so many things that I’m taking up more space on the subway than usual.” It rarely meant, “I made a poor decision or did something wrong and it impacted you negatively. I recognize this and feel bad about it and would like to make things better between us.”

 

Vrabel decided to try to change this behavior. She writes:

In the first few days, I was hyper-aware of my urge to say that I was sorry, but that didn’t necessarily mean that I said it any less. Some sentences just didn’t feel complete without it. I’d squeak out a friendly “excuse me, please” from the back of a crowded elevator when it hit my floor, but it just didn’t seem like enough. By the time I had shuffled my way out the doors, I’d given in and added a “sorry” to all the people I had brushed past. What was I apologizing for? That’s literally how elevators work: They fill up with people, they stop at floors and people get off of them. Sometimes the people who get on first also get off first, and the other elevator riders have to spend approximately four seconds of their day stepping aside for them. It’s a pretty basic social contract, and certainly nothing I could control.

 

Comedienne Amy Schumer wrote a brilliant sketch

for her Inside Amy Schumer show[2] on Comedy Central.[3]

Maybe some of you saw it.

In it, we meet a panel of smart, educated women

who are participating in a discussion.

The women are presumably at the forefront of their fields.

And, yet, with every answer to the moderator’s questions,

they start with “Sorry,” and they are unsure of themselves the entire time.

The moderator pronounces one of the panelist’s names incorrectly, as Meegan,

and she says, “Sorry, it’s MEHgan.”

HE got her name wrong – why is SHE apologizing?

The entire bit continues in this way.

At one point, a woman coughs a bit, and requests water.

An assistant brings a diet coke,

and she apologizes because she’s “being such a diva,”

and that she’s allergic to caffeine.

The assistant next brings a steaming cup of coffee (clearly still caffeinated)

which she cannot drink,

one of other panelists offers to drink it,

the assistant spills it all over her,

resulting in terrible burns,

but the burned woman apologizes for disturbing everyone.

It takes on an absurd twist,

but the point is nonetheless profound –

why do we apologize so much?

 

A study reported in Scientific American[4]

found that women tend to exhibit this behavior more than men.

“Researchers analyzed the number of self-reported offences and apologies

made by 66 subjects over a 12-day period. And yes, they confirmed women consistently apologized more times than men did. But they also found that women report more offenses than men. So the issue is not female over-apology.

Instead, there may be a gender difference in what is considered offensive in the first place.”

So, women tend to apologize more,

and tend to judge more situations worthy of apology.

However, anecdotally,

I sure we all know plenty of people of all genders who say “I’m sorry” too much.

 

Jessica Bennett, in a Time Magazine article[5] entitled, “I’m Sorry, but Women Really Need to Stop Apologizing,” writes:

Sorry is a crutch… It’s a space filler, a hedge, a way to politely ask for something without offending, to appear “soft” while making a demand. It falls in the same category as “I hate to ask” or “I know this is a stupid question” or another version of “No offense, but” or ending your statements with a question.

Business consultant Kathryn D. Cramer[6],

author of Lead Positive: What Highly Effective Leaders See, Say, and Do,

says women are socialized from an early age

to focus on relationships and nurturing.

Any sign of strength can be off-putting,

so they’re conditioned to soften communication

that can be construed as assertive or aggressive.

Apologizing before speaking—

or in any situation where women must show strength

or where there is potential for conflict—

is one way of doing so.

 

Sylvia Ann Hewlett,

from the Manhattan-based think tank, Center for Talent Innovation,

adds that workplace culture contributes to its use, too.

In many cases, strong women need to find ways to temper their personalities

or risk being called “rude,” “abrasive,” or even risk their jobs

if they don’t find ways to soften others’ perception, she says.

But, interestingly, saying “sorry” too often

can be more career-killing than being disliked.

 

As an article in Forbes points out,

“Constantly apologizing can have negative side effects on your career,

from giving the appearance of incompetence

to annoying your colleagues and superiors with your self-deprecating style.

But the most detrimental and lasting side effect of over-apologizing

is how it corrodes your self-image.”[7]

 

There are many times that simply saying, “Thank you”

would be so much more effective and meaningful.

When your family member or significant other takes out the garbage,

rather than apologizing for not having done it yourself

(which just burdens them with the need to reassure you),

why not express your gratitude instead,

which helps them to feel appreciated and valued.

This only applies, of course, when you generally do your share—

if your family member or friend is in a huff because you never help out,

thanking them for what they really should not have had to do

may only annoy them further.[8]

 

One woman, named Claire, published a letter[9] to her 12-year-old self.

It is such a powerful reminder of the ways in which

we are conditioned to apologize for our very existence.

She writes:

Hey Little C,

I’m sorry to bother you while you’re reading, but —

Hold up. No, I’m not. I’m NOT sorry because today’s letter means a lot. It’s about something we both do each day that really has to change. It’s about the small but mighty s-word that we always seem to say: “Sorry.”

“I’m sorry, are you using that?”

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand…”

“Sorry for bothering you, but…”

“Sorry, can you lend me a hand?”

“Sorry” started as a reflex at your age, a misguided attempt to be polite. I felt that pre-empting requests with an apology showed a conscientious mind. I didn’t want to seem pushy or selfish, and sorry was the cure. But what started out as a quick fix lead to a lifetime of sounding unsure.

You see, Little C, sorry is a slippery slope. The word that flies across your lips, though it is small in size, grows to be most powerful and devastating when it’s internalized.

The more that you apologize, the more you’ll believe it’s true. You’ll start apologizing for every little thing you say and do. And here’s what happens when you let sorry call the shots: your voice gets quiet and you start having trouble speaking up…You’ll back down far too quickly at the risk of anyone getting mad…

Apologizing all day is exhausting and there will come a time when that fatigue will join forces with your apologetic frame of mind. Instead of apologizing or speaking up, you decide to save everyone some time by not saying a thing. And what a travesty that is! To have a brain churning full of ideas and an output of silence.

You see, even though the word is the same, there will be a monumental shift from apologizing out of politeness to meaning, “Sorry I exist.”

I’m sorry for my presence.

I’m sorry for speaking my mind.

I’m sorry for taking up even a second of your time.

Five little letters and downcast eyes. That’s the power of sorry…

There are times when apologies are warranted and we both know what they are. Apologize when you’ve done something wrong, but not simply for existing. When you bump into someone, “Excuse me” will do. When you raise your hand in class, cut right to the question you want an answer to. Your voice is not a burden; your curiosity is a gift.

Stop apologizing, Little C. You are not in the way. You’ve done nothing wrong by existing. Say what you want to say.

All my love,

Claire

There are more than enough reasons for us to apologize,

especially when we’ve truly erred.

Apologies should come from the heart,

and should be meaningful and authentic.[10]

Uttering the words, “I’m sorry” so frequently diminishes their power

and the role they play in our lives.

 

Ani Vrabel[11] explains further how she views this behavior:

What I realized is that there’s a subtle — and yet, very important — difference between acknowledging being involved in inconveniencing someone and taking the blame for it. If terrible traffic makes me late to meet someone, I’ll give them a heads up as soon as I can, recognize that waiting sucks and thank them genuinely for their patience. Maybe I’ll buy them a cup of coffee as a sign of appreciation. I will not act as if I’m at fault for the three-car pile-up that caused miles of gridlock. If I’m walking along a narrow sidewalk toward someone else, and that person stops to let me pass, I’ll smile and thank them and pick up my pace. I will not say “sorry,” as if I’ve made some error in judgment by taking up space in a public place.

Come with me a step further.

Beyond the anxious need that many of us have to apologize for everything,

are there other specific things for which we should never apologize?[12] [13] [14]

 

1. You Should Never Apologize for Loving Someone

Celebrate the fact that you are able to love.

There are many people in the world too scared

to take a chance on love in the first place.

It doesn’t matter who you love or if they love you back.

The fact that you can love is what’s important.

 

2. You Should Never Apologize for Your Past

Some of us have people in our lives

who constantly remind us of something we did wrong years ago.

And they may even use it to continue to tease or humiliate us, or, worse, manipulate us. Your past is just that. It’s your past.

Everyone makes foolish mistakes.

We were all dumb teenagers once.

But as long as it’s not part of who you are today,

And as long as you’ve done your own teshuvah for your mistake,

it shouldn’t be on your list of things to apologize for.

 

3. You Should Never Apologize for Saying No

Respecting your own limitations is a sign of self respect.

If you cannot give 100 percent to something

you should never apologize for saying no.

The ability to say no is a sign of strength and courage.

 

4. You Should Never Apologize for Your Priorities

Never allow anyone to make you feel guilty over your priorities.

Always take care of your own priorities first.

If it’s important to you then it is important.

The people who matter will respect your choice.

 

5. You Should Never Apologize for Ending a Toxic Relationship

You should never say that you are sorry

for letting go of someone who hurts you.

Understanding that an unhealthy relationship

holds you back from reaching your full potential

is a huge step forward.

Be proud of yourself,

and surround yourself with people who celebrate you, support you,

and see you for who you are.

 

6. You Should Never Apologize for Being You

Are you kind of weird?

Delightfully geeky?

Perhaps a bit too opinionated?

And do you like yourself for it?

Then that’s all you need to continue being who you are.

You shouldn’t say sorry for preferences or actions

that define who you are as a person—

as long as you know you like that person.

 

7. You Should Never Apologize for Not Knowing the Answer

The constant quest for knowledge keeps our brains young.

Life would be incredibly boring if we were born

jam-packed with all available knowledge already in our brains.

Never say you’re sorry when presented with an opportunity to learn.

Being able to admit you do not know is a sign of strength and humility.

 

8. You Should Never Apologize for Someone Else

Everyone is responsible for their own actions and behavior.

You do not need to apologize for something someone else did

even if you feel their actions reflect upon you through association.

 

Save “I’m sorry” for when you actually make a mistake.

Summon the courage to not automatically apologize,

and, perhaps in the words of Demi Lovato,[15] say,

Sorry, I’m not sorry.

So, I hope you’ll join me in a bit of a New Year’s Resolution:

I resolve to express gratitude more and apologize less.

I resolve to only apologize when it is actually appropriate and necessary.

I resolve not to apologize for something out of my control.

I resolve not to apologize for someone else’s mistake or choice.

I resolve not to apologize for simply being in a particular place or location.

I resolve not to apologize for needing to ask a question.

 

May our words carry life-affirming power and goodness.

May they enrich and uplift us,

May they strengthen us and those around us,

and may we always grow towards the incredible human beings we are meant to be.

Amen.

 

[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ani-vrabel/stop-apologizing-im-not-sorry_b_5021125.html
[2] http://www.cc.com/episodes/9c7z0x/inside-amy-schumer-i-m-sorry-season-3-ep-304
[3] https://www.bustle.com/articles/82928-the-inside-amy-schumer-sorry-skit-is-a-painfully-accurate-display-of-women-being-conditioned-to
[4] http://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode/women-apologize-more-frequently-tha-10-09-25/
[5] http://time.com/2895799/im-sorry-pantene-shinestrong/
[6] http://www.fastcompany.com/3032112/strong-female-lead/sorry-not-sorry-why-women-need-to-stop-apologizing-for-everything
[7] https://www.forbes.com/sites/melodywilding/2016/09/06/stop-over-apologizing-how-to-quit-saying-sorry-so-much/#45c3378f1d12
[8] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-love-and-war/201306/when-im-sorry-is-too-much
[9] http://amysmartgirls.com/notes-to-my-12-year-old-self-sorry-not-sorry/
[10] https://www.theodysseyonline.com/im-sorry-someone-who-apologizes-too-much
[11]http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ani-vrabel/stop-apologizing-im-not-sorry_b_5021125.html
[12] Adapted from http://goweloveit.info/lifestyle/10-things-you-should-never-have-to-apologize-for/
[13] Adapted from http://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/15-things-you-dont-need-apologize-for-though-you-think-you.html
[14] https://www.kveller.com/8-things-you-should-not-apologize-for-this-year/?utm_content=buffer2aa70&utm_medium=social&utm_source=thenosher&utm_campaign=buffer
[15] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/dear-haters-demi-lovato-is-sorry-not-sorry-on-comeback-single_us_5964c42de4b03f144e2da78a

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