The Not Sorry Challenge

Okay, a few days ago, I was scrolling through Facebook when I came across a challenge. The challenge was issued by a strong older woman, one who has held positions in a variety of fields, and who has a dizzying array of hobbies and interests. She’s someone that many of us have looked up to. Yes, I’m talking about Barbie.

Ladies, Barbie thinks we—and our daughters—apologize too much. We apologize when we shouldn’t. For example, when we’re not actually at fault, like when someone turns a corner and runs into our stationary shopping cart with their moving cart. We apologize when it doesn’t even make sense, like when we make a request to our server at a restaurant: “I’m sorry, but that TV is really loud. Can you turn the volume down a bit, please?” This article provides some excellent examples of absurd apologies.

Why do we apologize so much? One of the most frequently referenced studies I came across in the (very) brief research I did for this post suggests that, overall, men have a lower threshold for what behaviors cause offense and therefore find that fewer things are deserving of an apology. And while I’m sure that’s true, too, I think that Barbie’s probably a little more accurate when, around the 35-second mark in this video she says, “We get excited and exuberant about something we’re really excited about and then we instantly say ‘Sorry.’ Like we’re afraid of being too big.”

Afraid of being too big. That’s a common theme when you read articles and posts about this whole “sorry” phenomenon. They talk about it being a way for us to make ourselves seem less assertive, less confident—to take up less space in the world.

In an interesting twist, at the end of the video, Barbie challenged viewers to replace “sorry” with “thank you.” A while back, I read a blog post challenging readers to do the same. (And I do wish I could remember where I read it so that I could link to it and give the author proper credit!) I took that challenge on and wow, was it hard. Examples. I came downstairs from putting the kid to bed and found my husband doing the dishes. My immediate response was to say, “Oh, sorry! I meant to get to those.” Instead, “Oh, s—thank you for doing the dishes today.” Running a couple minutes behind in the morning? “Sorry! I’m coming, I’m coming!” became “Sor—Thanks for waiting on me, guys! Here I am!” And in that case? It’s amazing how much more relaxed the thank you was; it just felt less rushed and took the tension down a notch. On a more personal note, I frequently feel like my mental illness impacts my family quite a bit, whether it’s housework I didn’t get to because I couldn’t adult on a given day, or a family event that I feel like I “ruined” because I was in a funk—I feel like I apologize for myself a lot. And, while there are times that sincere apologies are definitely in order, a lot of the time my apologies are of the reflexive variety and replacing sorrys with thank yous is way more empowering for me.

It is important to sincerely say you’re sorry when you have actually wronged someone or hurt them in some way. But it’s equally important to learn to stop saying sorry when you have nothing to apologize for. I encourage you—and your daughters, and the other important girls and women in your life—to take Barbie’s challenge. I know I need to recommit. Who’s with me?