Paul L. Caron

Sunday, May 14, 2023

NY Times Op-Ed: An Apology for Saying ‘Sorry’

New York Times Op-Ed:  An Apology for Saying ‘Sorry,’ by Tish Harrison Warren (Priest, Anglican Church; Author, Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep (2021) (Christianity Today's 2022 Book of the Year)):

Warren 3I have a fraught relationship with the words “I’m sorry.” I say it constantly, habitually, even when I don’t mean to. I was raised in the South, where women are often conditioned to apologize compulsively. ...

On any given day, I open Instagram and see memes encouraging people — especially women, who tend to apologize more often than men — to knock off the apologies and offering what to say instead. There are perennial articles about how to quit an “I’m sorry” habit.

Saying “I’m sorry” is not always a heartfelt, sincere note of contrition, of course. It can become little more than a verbal tic. Yet the “I’m sorry” debate also points to something deeper. We are told that apologizing too much shows a lack of confidence and authority and can make us seem weak. In our cultural context, the debate about how much to say “I’m sorry” becomes part of a broader societal script about self-confidence, power and gender. It raises questions about what proper self-regard and healthy, humble diffidence look like. And here is where this debate becomes trickier and more perplexing to me. ...

All the cultural chatter about apologizing can be particularly bewildering for people of faith — especially the women among us. After all, in Christianity, humility is prized as a virtue. In Scripture, it is the meek who “shall inherit the earth,” not the brash, the bold or those who always think they are right.

An essential belief I hold as a Christian is that I am a sinner in need of repentance. Each Sunday, I kneel with my church community in corporate confession and say aloud that I am “truly sorry” and that I “humbly repent.” We all say this together — men and women alike, the brazen and the modest, the overapologizers and underapologizers. It is worth noting that of all the things we could do week in and week out in our worship gatherings, we collectively practice saying the words “I’m sorry.” Yet everyone who says these words of confession and repentance in my church is also shaped by society. This affects how we come to the practice of confession and repentance in the first place. This affects our sense of self, of confidence or humility. ...

Obviously, if there is a solution to this tension between overapologizing and overconfidence, it is to have precisely appropriate levels of confidence and humility. But day in and day out, this is hard to do and is made more difficult by the societal debate around whether and how often to say “sorry.” Having keen self-knowledge, humility and awareness of both one’s gifts and one’s faults is hard enough without having to negotiate generations of stereotypes, cultural conditioning and gender expectations on top of it.

In the end, I look to the mercy of God not only for forgiveness of fault but also for help navigating the complex historical and political meaning of what it is to be both a woman called to act confidently, joyfully and with authority in the world and a sinner in need of humility and repentance. I’m still not quite willing to let go of “I’m sorry.” I know I apologize too much. And at the end of the day, I think I’d rather err that way than not say “sorry” enough. And if that is wrong, which it may be, I’m very sorry.

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Other New York Times op-eds by Tish Harrison Warren:

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