What would happen if every time we felt like saying, “Sorry,” we said, “Thank you,” instead? This is an idea I came across on a hippy Buddhist website and it really works. You gotta love the Buddhists. (No, you really have to love the Buddhists. That is the first rule of karma.) Basically, instead of saying, “Sorry I’m late,” you say, “Thanks so much for waiting for me.” Instead of saying, “Sorry – I’m not making any sense”, say, “Thanks so much for listening.” Instead of saying, “Sorry I’ve been rubbish at keeping in touch,” say, “Thank you for being such a great friend.”
Woo-woo bullshit? Or useful? Well, this idea first appealed to me because I am always researching ways that I can help myself stop apologising. But this in itself has become a controversial subject of late. Some quote the line taken by ex-Google exec Ellen Petry Leanse – that women sound “like children” when they apologise because, in that moment, they cede power to the other person. A study by the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, concluded that women apologise a lot because they are “more likely than men to conclude that their behaviour is objectionable”.
On the other hand, though, there’s a school of thought that this analysis is in itself demeaning to women; that it’s just another way of getting women to question their behaviour and find it – yet again – at fault. After all, apologies (and being able to admit to potentially objectionable behaviour) grease the wheels of social interaction. They show you care and you’re not a selfish cow. Why should we stop apologising? Why should we feel bad about saying sorry? Why can’t we just say whatever we want and not have to think about it?
Replacing "sorry" with "thank you" makes sense to me. It actually makes me feel less anxious and insecure and self-censored. And I also like the way this technique takes the focus off you and puts it on to the other person
Jessica Grose, editor of Lenny, has argued that the way women speak has been “subject to increased and unwarranted scrutiny”. Similarly, the feminist linguist Debbie Cameron says there is little scientific evidence that women say “just” or “sorry” more than men (although you can also find plenty of studies that argue the opposite). Cameron’s take is this: “Women, please understand: it’s not you that’s undermining yourself by using powerless language; it’s the bullshitters who are undermining you with their constant incitement to anxiety, insecurity and self-censorship.”
OK, I get it. It’s complicated. But I know for a fact that I do over-apologise when I don’t need to and I feel pointlessly guilty about things and I would like to fix this. Replacing “sorry” with “thank you” makes sense to me. It actually makes me feel less anxious and insecure and self-censored. And I also like the way this technique takes the focus off you and puts it on to the other person.
So, you’re late. You feel bad. You wish you had been on time. But it’s not all about you, is it? Put it on to the other person (in a good way). They waited patiently. They took the trouble to get there on time. They’ve done a nice thing. The “thank you” they deserve is more important and more production than your self-pitying “sorry”. It’s actually a way of thinking more about other people – not less. Well done, Buddhists!
There’s something so much more generous and positive about acknowledging someone else’s feelings instead of being focused on your own deficiencies all the time. On that, at least, we can all agree, whether or not you think women are constantly being beaten over the head with ideas about how to “improve” themselves. So, I won’t apologise for making this issue a bit more complicated than maybe we would like it to be. Instead, I’ll say this: “Thank you for understanding that this stuff is sometimes nuanced.” See? Thank you is so much better than sorry. Namaste.